Governments have decided to postpone action on a controversial proposal to broaden anti-business discrimination and limit participation by non-state actors in the work of the World Health Organization. On the final day of the 68th World Health Assembly, WHO member states opted to continue discussions of the draft Framework for Engagement of Non-State Actors (FENSA) for another year.
“FENSA proved to be one of the most contentious topics on the WHO’s agenda for this nine-day session,” Norine Kennedy, USCIB’s vice president for international engagement, energy and environment, reported after attending the Geneva assembly. “Despite meetings that carried through the weekend and late into last night, many aspects of the issue are still not resolved as the assembly adjourns today.”
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell was among the ministers and other dignitaries who addressed the World Health Assembly. “This is an important gathering, because as the world witnessed with the Ebola virus this past year, our planet is too small for nations to operate in isolation when it comes to facing major health challenges,” said Secretary Burwell. “Health threats don’t recognize borders, and we must recognize our need for global solutions.”
Earlier this month, in a joint letter to U.S. cabinet officials, USCIB and other U.S. business groups voiced concerns “about proposals on the table that could unjustifiably restrict the WHO’s ability to engage with the private sector in support of its mission.” Kennedy said the impact on business would touch many industries, and create precedents for anti-business bias in other UN forums. USCIB members and staff, including Helen Medina, USCIB’s vice president for product policy and innovation, were on hand during the World Health Assembly to continue dialogue with government representatives on practical ways to inform WHO deliberations with rigorous technical input and implementation from the private sector.
WHO members agreed to establish an intergovernmental working group on FENSA to continue discussions, with the objective of delivering a conclusion at next year’s World Health Assembly. A first meeting of the working group is tentatively scheduled for October.
Kennedy added that business is still concerned about specific provisions in the current draft FENSA text. These include prejudicial language citing the need to exercise “caution” with respect to certain unnamed industry sectors, overly bureaucratic and complex procedures for both non-state actors and WHO secretariat, and limits on public-private partnerships.
“At a time when the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals highlight private-sector engagement on global health challenges, we believe it is possible to address potential conflict of interest and other important concerns consistently and transparently, while also strengthening and encouraging private-sector involvement in the WHO’s important work,” said Kennedy.