Info Service on Health Issues (May17/04)
WHO: Member States raise concerns over secondment criteria and guidelines
Geneva, 30 May (Mirza Alas*) – Many Member States raised concerns over the criteria and guidelines for secondment from Non-State Actors (NSAs) to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The issue came up in discussions on 26 May in Committee B of the 70th session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) that took place on 22 to 31 May.
[A “secondment” to WHO is the assignment to WHO of an individual already employed by an entity, for a fixed period, under a tripartite secondment agreement concluded by WHO, the releasing entity and the employee. Secondees return to the releasing entity at the end of their secondment. While on secondment, secondees are WHO staff members.]
The Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA) excludes secondment from the private sector. The 2016 WHA resolution 69.10, which adopted FENSA, requested the WHO Director-General to prepare the document titled “Criteria and principles for secondments from nongovernmental organizations, philanthropic foundations and academic institutions” for the consideration of the on-going Assembly. (WHA 70.53 available at: http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA70/A70_53-en.pdf)
The Secretariat document changed the criteria set by WHA 69.10 that excludes secondments from NSAs to managerial and sensitive posts. The Secretariat’s document reduced the scope of exclusion to “managerial and/or positions that involve the validation or approval of WHO’s norms and standards are excluded”. (See: WHO: Secretariat proposes non-state actor secondment to ‘sensitive posts’ http://www.twn.my/title2/health.info/2017/hi170502.htm).
Further, the Secretariat proposed that the Assembly “take note” of the document instead of adopting the document.
[“Taking note” would mean that the Member States accept the Secretariat’s proposal and essentially leaves it to the Secretariat to proceed. On the other hand, adoption is preceded by a more engaged discussion among Member States and they take ownership and responsibility for the implementation of the decision.]
During the discussions many developing countries raised concerns regarding the criteria and guidelines on secondment from NSAs. Further, Member States also expressed some hesitation regarding the procedure to note the report instead of adoption of the document as mandated WHA 69.10. The Secretariat then sought the advice of the legal counsel of WHO to clarify the situation. The legal counsel, in supporting the stand of the Secretariat, provided a unique argument that the WHO Executive Board had instructed the Secretariat to submit the document to WHA to take note of the document instead of adoption.
According to an observer, the reasoning of the legal counsel in effect states that the Executive Board, consisting of 33 Member States of WHO, can change the decision of the WHA consisting of the whole Membership. However, in response to a question from Brazil on whether the WHA can put in additional conditions, the legal counsel answered in the affirmative.
AT the end, the report was noted but Member States were reassured by the WHO Secretariat that their expressed concerns were going to be taken into consideration and would be reflected in the report that will be provided at the Executive Board Meeting in January 2018. According to a WHO source, the text of the current guidelines will remain as it was presented unless the Executive Board meeting decides to provide a new mandate to the Secretariat on how to modify such guidelines.
Among the issues raised by developing countries concerning the guidelines were the following: the need to address “revolving door” situations; the exclusion of the term “sensitive positions” that was in the original language of resolution WHA69.10 that adopted FENSA and which was removed from the proposed guidelines; and how to comprehensively addresses conflict of interest issues.
[Resolution WHA69.10 is available at: http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA69/A69_R10-en.pdf
A short analysis published by TWN earlier in the week (http://www.twn.my/title2/health.info/2017/hi170502.htm) also pointed out that the current guidelines do not contain provisions that would require the disclosure of the source for funding of the person being seconded. Therefore, funding for a seconded position could potentially come from private sector funding, and in fact be a back door for private entities to influence WHO.]
During the discussion that took place at the Assembly, Brazil stated that FENSA has become a sort of a model and many other international organizations are looking at the WHO. However, Brazil stressed that there is a discrepancy between the document and the mandate of the last WHA on “sensitive positions”. Now the word “sensitive” is gone. What happened to the word, asked Brazil, adding that, “It needs to be repaired somehow. It is a relevant distinction because matters can be sensitive that do not concern norms and standards settings.”
Egypt agreed with this observation.
India said that the procedure for due diligence in the proposed guidelines is not elaborated, and that the document does not address conflict of interest. India was happy to note that the Non-State Actor register has been built and that it is being integrated in a management platform, and asked that the latter be made public.
Bolivia, Ecuador, and Somalia also stated their support for the statements by India, with Brazil and Bolivia also emphasizing the need to keep the wording on “sensitive positions” as established in FENSA.
Somalia highlighted that there should be a cooling off period so such secondments will not be seen as a back door for coming into WHO without due process. Zimbabwe added that it was necessary to “shut the revolving door” when individuals from the private sector engage with WHO and there should be a requirement of cooling period to mitigate this and that heavy finance from private secondments should be prohibited.
Pakistan additionally stated that the report has not been done in consultation with Member States and the next Executive Board should take on this issue.
Ecuador emphasized the need to have clear policies without conflict of interest and that health should be above any commercial interest.
China welcomed the report and emphasized that what really matters is that FENSA is implemented at all three levels, highlighting the need for better transparency and criteria.
The United States said that FENSA is an incredible tool but that it should be even-handed and fair, and used without any prejudice toward any kind of NSA. It stated concern that implementation would further restrict engagement with the private sector and that it is not consistent with due diligence and risk management. It also raised the issue that the guide for staff and handbook was not published before the WHA as it was supposed to be.
The Republic of Korea emphasized that transparency is a must and the need for consensus of the public. They suggested monitoring of FENSA by an NGO so that all points of engagement are carefully scrutinized.
The United Kingdom noted that the implementation plan should be made global and specific deliverables be made. The WHO Management and Advisory committee should see to the progress of the recommendations.
(*With inputs from the Watch team of the People’s Health Movement)