Civil society organizations revitalized in Dhaka on immunization

The Gavi CSO constituency, represented by their Steering Committee took the initiative to arrange a collaborative meeting of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the Asia Pacific Region. The meeting on Empowerment of civil society in Asia: Boosting collaboration and involvement in immunization and health programs was hosted by BRAC in Dhaka, Bangladesh during February 27-28, 2017 with the support of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

The workshop was inaugurated by Dr. Md. Jahangir Alam Sarker, Director, Primary Health Care (PHC) of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) in Bangladesh while Dr. Dorothy Esangbedo, Chair, Gavi CSO Steering Committee and Mr. Hamzah Mangal Zekrya, CSO Advocacy Senior Specialist, Public Policy Engagement delivered a presentation in the inaugural session.

Dr. Dorothy, who lent her high-level support to the meeting highlighted the importance of strong participation by CSOs in Asian countries in the Gavi CSO Constituency. The important role played by CSOs in supporting routine immunization services, creating demand for underutilized and new vaccines and strengthening health systems is widely recognized. As members of the Gavi Alliance, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) share similar interests in developing strategic partnerships with civil society.

Dr. Kaosar Afsana, Director, Health Nutrition, and Population Program (HNPP) delivered the welcome note while Anuradha Gupta, Deputy CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance sent a video message as the opening remarks on this occasion.

Anuradha said, “For Gavi, CSOs are an important constituency, extremely vital. I always feel that the Alliance is incomplete without the civil society organizations – you are the watchdogs, you are the conscience keepers, but you are also directly the service providers. As Gavi moves into a new strategic era in 2016-2020, which is focused on improving coverage equity and sustainability of immunization making sure that every child who is today missed receive the full range of lifesaving vaccines, the role of CSOs is going to become an even more critical than before.”

She also added, “The role of country platforms would become extremely important. We are now really hoping to see some very encouraging outcomes of this engagements.”

 
CSOs in Asia have long been involved in public health including community mobilization and increasing access to services for marginalized and hard-to-reach populations, especially in areas with sub-optimal government infrastructure. CSOs also play a vital role in providing technical assistance, program monitoring, evaluation and documentation, and operational research, to name just a few. Despite the recognition that CSOs play vital roles on immunization and health systems, they often have difficulty accessing fora where they can share their experiences and expertise to influence health policy.

The Steering Committee aims to strengthen the collaboration of CSOs in Asia by bringing organizations together to reflect upon the role of CSOs in immunization programs in the region and to facilitate the creation of synergies among CSOs and agencies who contribute to reaching the SDGs.

Most of the countries in the region grapple with inequities in access to immunization. A regional meeting like this is expected to be conducive to sharing best practices, discussing what works in increasing coverage and equity in immunization services, and understanding where Asia Pacific regional collaborations on health currently exist and how we might strengthen them.

Moments from the Gavi CSO Asia Regional Meeting

CSO representatives from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka attended the meeting. It is very encouraging that some CSO representatives from countries like Pakistan are attending the meeting virtually. Dr. Naveen Thacker, CSO Representative on Gavi Board, who is also a well-known Child Specialist of Asia Pacific region was present among other distinguished participants.

Dr. Faruque Ahmed, Executive Director of BRAC International concluded the inaugural session with closing remarks. The workshop will hold series of discussion and expected to produce a strategy going forward for how to strengthen regional CSO involvement in supporting immunization and stronger health systems.

The two days meeting was closed by series of presentations from different countries in Asia, discussions, and group works with the hope of working together in future stronger. Muhammad Musa, Executive Director, BRAC was present in the concluding session.

Tareq Salahuddin

Dr. Tareq Salahuddin is an award-winning journalist and a Special Correspondent of News Hour. He is a Public Health Professional working in the development sector. Dr. Tareq, a medical graduate, is a member of Public Health Association of Bangladesh and a former member of the Governing Council and Policy Committee of the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA), a J2J Fellow on HIV/AIDS and a member of the International AIDS Society. To know more about Dr. Tareq, please visit his personal website (www.tareqsalahuddin.net) or simply Google his name.
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