By Theresa Nyamupachitu, Health Systems Strengthening Advisor, IMA World Health

T

hey were the busiest six days in Geneva and probably in the world as 194 countries converged for The 69th World Health Assembly from May 23–28, 2016. This was a moment set for world health leaders to pause and reflect on the progress made to meet the health needs of their countries and to set their health agenda. The world embraced the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the new goals, targets and indicators being used to frame global health agencies and policies.

This was an opportunity that IMA World Health would not miss, and so my colleague Nkatha Njeru from the IMA office in Kenya and I were fortunate to be part of these proceedings. Putting on two hats as a Global Health Council Delegate and a World Council of Churches Delegate, my two main goals were to gain insights into the current global health issues to better align IMA’s contributions to the health and well-being of all, and to foster the engagement of faith-based organizations at this platform to increase FBO visibility and recognition in global health. IMA is a faith-based international public health organization that works in close partnership with local FBO networks in most African countries known as Christian Health Associations and their regional body, the African Christian Health Associations Platform.

Through several briefings from country delegations made up of high-level government officials, the world celebrated notable successes driven by the Millennium Development Goals, such as 19,000 fewer children dying every day; a 44 percent drop in maternal mortality; 85 percent of tuberculosis cases treated; and a 60 percent decline in malaria mortality. Leaders also noted that antiretroviral therapy, a life-saving treatment, has had the fastest scale-up in history, with more than 15 million people living with HIV now receiving it.

However, many countries reported gaps still remain and challenges lay ahead of meeting the goals and achieving universal health coverage. These include weak health systems; disease outbreaks, such as Zika and Ebola; and emerging health issues such as anti-microbial resistance, non-communicable diseases and mental illness.

Through numerous deliberations, a number of new resolutions were set to guide the new agenda. Among these, the most challenging during negotiations and yet the most exciting is FENSA—The WHO Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors. After more than four years of intergovernmental negotiations, the WHA adopted a set of guidelines that will strengthen WHO engagement with non-governmental organizations (including FBOs), private sector entities, philanthropic foundations and academic institutions.

Theresa Nyamupachitu, Health Systems Strengthening Advisor for IMA World Health, makes a presentation on "Training and Formation: Lessons learnt and opportunities for ACHAP and CHAs" during a WCC-ACHAP event titled "Global Public Health: The future of faith-based organizations" on May 25, 2016, during the 69th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo courtesy of Peter Kenny/WCC)

Theresa Nyamupachitu, Health Systems Strengthening Advisor for IMA World Health, makes a presentation on “Training and Formation: Lessons learnt and opportunities for ACHAP and CHAs” during a WCC-ACHAP event titled “Global Public Health: The future of faith-based organizations” on May 25, 2016, during the 69th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo courtesy of Peter Kenny/WCC)

To coincide with this, IMA, ACHAP and several CHA leaders, including Ms. Karen Sichinga of the Christian Health Association of Zambia; Dr. Samuel Mwenda of the Christian Health Association of Kenya and a member of the IMA board; and Dr. Mwai Makoka of the Christian Health Association of Malawi, engaged in discussions and strategic thinking with partners including WCC, WHO and Global Fund on their future role in the 2030 health agenda. FBOs play a significant role in health, serving the most vulnerable populations in hard to reach areas where, in most cases, governments and the private sector have no reach. Yet FBOs remain under-recognized for their immense contributions to the health sector. In many contexts, FBOs are often not integrated into planning and resource allocations for national health systems, leading to service and system redundancies and gaps.

IMA applauds FENSA and views it as an opportunity for the voice of FBOs to be heard and for their role to be recognized at a global level. However, to achieve this FBOs face some critical questions—how prepared are they to extend their reach to those that have not yet been reached; to enhance evidence-based dialogue with governments and stakeholders and demand for inclusiveness; to strengthen capacities within networks to have more impact; and to have stronger religious messages on critical health issues such as immunization and HIV/AIDS.

Now as the world heads into three busy days in New York at the 2016 United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting On Ending AIDS, June 8–10, 2016, IMA will follow closely on how FBOs can contribute to ending the AIDS epidemic and build toward the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.