Civil society also plays a role in international policy debates

Internationally, NGOs (service organizations more than constituent groups) have been increasingly vocal in international policy debates and in health-related international conventions.

Their contribution has been particularly strong in establishing health conventions and standards. For example, trade unions have campaigned on hazardous chemicals. The International Baby Food Action Network - established in 1979 by five NGOs - played an important role in developing the International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Trade unions in southern Africa promoted and participated in a tripartite dialogue in the Southern African Development Community to adopt a regional code of practice on HIV/AIDS and Employment.

These civic actions have taken a number of forms, including:

  • urging governments to support conventions and standards
  • monitoring and exposing industry abuses before and after their adoption
  • sharing information on the issues involved in developing the codes
  • garnering international media attention and public support
  • applying direct pressure, such as through boycotts
  • providing a critical counterweight to industry lobbies.

Internationally, this 'watchdog' and advocacy role has led to a proposal to form a Global Health Watch. This collaborative NGO structure aims to stimulate the political will to develop improved health policies and to monitor how well governments implement them.


site map
forward and back

Enhancing civil society

Priority health problems

Facilitating roles
Interactive exercise

Policy accountability

Equity in health
Responding to communities
The potential for success
Interactive exercise