The role of civil society in the lead up to the Third United Nations High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases

05 April 2018 | Policy

Fiona Sing is Policy and Public Affairs Officer at World Cancer Research Fund International

The date for the Third United Nations High Level Meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) (UNHLM3) has been announced. On 27 September 2018 governments will meet to critically review the progress achieved towards global (voluntary) NCD targets since the First and Second UN High Level Meetings on NCDs in 2011 and 2014. The importance of this meeting for reducing NCDs cannot be understated and capitalising on this opportunity is imperative to address the global NCD burden.   

Political climate

At the World Health Organization Global Conference on NCDs in Montevideo in October 2017, a UN High Level Commission on NCDs was established, followed by a Civil Society Working Group for UNHLM3. Momentum is building, yet to date, the NCD movement has been plagued with challenges and insufficient progress.

What role does civil society have in stepping up the pace on NCDs and making 2018 count?

Now the date for the meeting has been set for 27 September, how can NCD Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) best use their role in the lead up to the UNHLM3?

Previously, the role of CSOs in the NCD movement has been described as weak and part of the reason that global NCD targets have not been met. However, CSOs have had influential roles in improving global health, particularly in areas such as HIV, maternal health and tobacco control.

The role of CSOs in the NCD movement is crucial. This role ranges from that of watchdog and advocate, to holding the public and private sectors to account. CSOs have expertise and knowledge about best practice and evidence-based policies that would help to address the growing NCD epidemic. For example, WCRF International maintains the NOURISHING database which provides governments with examples of implemented nutrition policies from around the world. From it, they can learn how to adopt policies in their own national context.

The expertise and advocacy skills of CSOs needs to be leveraged and governments can engage and partner with CSOs to combat industry influence, which is commonplace (e.g. tobacco, food and beverage and alcohol industries).  Radical change is urgently needed if the Sustainable Development Goals and NCD Global Action Plan targets are to be met, and CSOs can ensure that the foot is not taken off the accelerator. 

Actor power

CSOs have previously faced challenges in performing their role in the NCD movement because they have been undermined by industry lobbying, the framing of NCDs as an individual problem as opposed to government policy, and a lack of funding and resources. Where CSO communities have been strong and able to combat industry influence, such as in Brazil and Mexico, effective policies have been implemented to tackle NCDs.

It is therefore imperative for the NCD movement that CSOs increase their influence as an actor in the NCD movement, in order to advocate and push for further policy change. The lead-up to the UNHLM3 provides the perfect opportunity for CSOs to increase their actor power.

CSOs stepping up the pace

Previously, CSOs have been criticised for being fragmented and lacking collaboration, but the Civil Society Working Group for the UNHLM3 and the NCD Alliance has helped reduce this fragmentation and align the CSO community. CSOs can collaborate and build advocacy coalitions united by a shared set of core beliefs, and use this united approach to combat the power imbalances caused by private sector influence. For example, the NCD Alliance has published their priorities for the UNHLM3 and you can explore them here. WCRF International and other NCD CSOs will be working with NCD Alliance to advocate for these priorities.

From this consolidated position, CSOs can demand meaningful involvement at the global, national, and regional level, creating policy windows and effecting change.

2018 is an excellent opportunity for CSOs to collaborate and step up the pace in the lead up to the UNHLM3 so that this golden opportunity of increased NCD prevention is not lost. 

  • Our Policy & Public Affairs team has had enough of industry interfering with policymaking in countries around the world. Have you also had enough? Join the NCD Alliance’s campaign #EnoughNCDs
Fiona Sing | 05 April 2018