26 January 2015

IHP+ welcomes Rozina Mistry from Pakistan to her new role as Southern Civil Society Organization representative, and asks her some questions. She takes over from Mayowa Joel, of Communication for Development Centre, Nigeria.

New Southern CSO representative

Hello Rozina and welcome to IHP+ as the new Southern Civil Society Organization representative. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

Hello. I’ve been working in development for more than 25 years. For most of that time, I was associated with Aga Khan Health Service Pakistan (AKHS, P) one of the leading nongovernmental, not-for-profit organizations in Pakistan.  

My passion and focus has been on community development, community capacity building for governing health facilities, health workers capacity building in tackling issues of women and children’s health, and communicable and non-communicable disease control programmes. As the Director of Community Health I was also responsible for quality assurance and health system strengthening, dash board development for programme monitoring and evaluation and innovative models of programme implementation to reach out to populations living in remote areas of Pakistan. 

After leaving AKHS, P, I joined Aga Khan University, Karachi as a visiting faculty with the primary focus on sharing my experience and learning with emerging health leaders of Pakistan. I also have the privilege of being one of the founding members and the first coordinator of the of the Pakistan Coalition of Health and Immunization, a very vibrant platform for civil society action. In the past I have served on the GAVI civil society steering committee and the GAVI oversight committee. Currently I am also serving in a voluntary capacity on the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization and the Global Vaccine Action Plan.  

What are you hoping to be able to do as the new Southern civil society representative? What can CSOs in the South expect from you? 

I believe that civil society has huge potential. Civil society has proven itself as one of the most powerful pillars of change and support during difficult times. I have seen heavy reliance on CSOs, particularly during crises or when there is a need to access difficult areas such as during the Ebola crisis in West AFrica or natural disasters such as during the earthquake rehabilitation in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the voice and the role of CSOs have not been recognized to the extent they deserve. I dream of unleashing that powerful voice. 

Another issue is the acceptance and promotion of civil society’s role in policy planning and accountability. Civil society is committed to putting internationally agreed principles for effective aid and development co-operation into practice in the health sector. I believe that although civil society has developed critical consciousness about the importance of their role in this regard, there is a need for investment in capacity building to enable them to play a constructive role in nation building and policy advocacy. I plan to promote this goal widely. 

Can you explain the role of the IHP+ Civil Society Consultative Group? 

The IHP+ Civil Society Consultative Group or CSCG was established by the Civil Society Representatives in 2007 as an advisory group of individuals from developed and developing countries. The primary objective of CSCG is to ensure a meaningful engagement of a broad range of civil society organizations in IHP+ policy and planning processes in the health sector at the national, regional and global levels. The group also monitors implementation of the seven behaviours at the national and global levels. The group envisages to develop mechanisms for holding all IHP+ signatories accountable for delivering results.

What do you hope that the CSOs can achieve in the area of development cooperation in health? 

CSOs and NGOs have a very important role to play in development cooperation and ensuring aid effectiveness. CSOs, through their meaningful engagement in developing and assessing national health plans, can also act as a watchdog and hold governments and donors accountable for their commitments and actions. CSOs through extending their support in the national health plan can ensure that development actions are sustainable. CSOs due the nature of their work have a deep understanding of the social determinants of  health. They have a deep insight about poverty and the underlying determinants and can ensure that the plans and actions developed also reach out to those in the most remote and distant areas. 

CSOs are generally  in touch with communities that are hard to access and hence through their effective participation, CSOs should be able to provide a critical counterbalance to government and the market in developing countries. Through various approaches CSOs are expected to ensure that the countries comply with the seven behaviours of IHP+. 

The CSCG is already working towards achieving this role. Our members sit on the Project Technical Committee and the Health Policy Action Fund and play a key role in ensuring that the project funds are aimed at empowering CSOs to play an effective advocacy role. CSCG members also participating in various  work-groups. Our members are on the core committee of IHP+ and during the recent 5th IHP+ Country Health Teams Meeting in Siem Reap, our members actively participated in the planning and moderating sessions. 

What do you think the greatest challenges are? 

Well, the greatest challenge from our CSO perspective is to have a voice in national policy dialogue fora. There is still a long way to go. On the one hand CSOs need to get organized to play a critical role and have a voice in the sustainable development in their countries. In order to address this challenge, CSCG is committed to strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations to engage with governments and other stakeholders in health planning and policy processes. 

CSCG is also negotiating with HPAF to organize the capacity building of the participating CSOs and others in their country coalition. In those countries where CSOs have managed to get a seat on the health sector coordination platform, space for CSOs to have meaningful participation is lacking. The challenge is for the Government to recognise CSOs as a critical partner in development cooperation and aid harmonization and alignment. This is a big challenge and the CSCG is recognises the need to invest in future accountability mechanisms for IHP+.

Where should people go if they need more information about development cooperation in health and the role of CSOs?

The IHP+ website contains very valuable information on development cooperation and health with information about key issues, useful tools and also results and lessons learnt.  There is also a very informative toolkit about development cooperation and health specifically for CSOs available on this site. If your CSO is interested in working more in this area, or if you want a deeper understanding of the issues, take a look at the toolkit.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

In the end, I want to highlight once again the need for a more supportive environment for CSO participation at the national and global level to ensure their effectiveness in policy and planning processes in the health sector and ultimately in the post-2015 development agenda, and development cooperation.

Watch a short film of Rozina Mistry talking about the role of CSOs in development cooperation and health. 

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