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May 24, 2018

Engage all stakeholders to address global nutrition issues

All member states and members of the global community agree that adequate nutrition is essential for positive public health outcomes and that all stakeholders must work together to improve public health.

That is why the WHO’s goals to improve nutrition are above reproach – though, unfortunately, their tactics and programs are not.

At a time when global health challenges are greater than ever, and when the WHO is calling for increased funding and expertise to deal with those challenges, the WHO is increasingly pursuing an exclusionary approach.

The WHO’s Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors has halted or chilled public-private sector engagement. Open engagement with all stakeholders (including the private sector) and public-private partnerships can leverage critical expertise and resources to design and implement effective policies and programs to tackle these problems.

For example, the WHO’s nutrition policies block and shut out possible partners in the private sector and beyond. Draft WHO proposals on managing conflicts of interest in nutrition programs – jammed through an expert group with little member state or stakeholder engagement – currently call for opaque and narrow governance of nutrition programs, including managing conflicts of interest. These draft approaches would explicitly shut out private sector expertise and resources and direct member states to do so as well.

This approach is not only short-sighted and heavy-handed, but ignores the best practices that many member states have developed to manage conflicts of interest involving any stakeholder in the development and implementation of such programs. These tactics willingly exclude local expertise and domestic procedures and position the WHO as the sole judge on these issues, instead of the member states to which the WHO supposedly is accountable.

Arbitration of these disputes is plagued by these same issues, completely cutting out the private sector and other stakeholders from participating in assessing domestic situations. This, again, excludes domestic knowledge, imposing the will of international bureaucrats on sovereign member states.

The Unites States and a handful of other member states including Italy, Panama and the Netherlands have been critical voices in calling out these negative recommendations and processes as biased, unaccountable and generally unfair. These issues are sure to return at the WHA, and member states like the United States must again take the lead.

At the WHA, the U.S. must insist on further member state consultation before these documents are finalized, as member states requested in January but did not receive. The United States and others should also work to revise these documents considerably to reflect the views and experiences of WHO members – not just activist groups – on these issues.