Health and disability rights: multi-stakeholder approaches

Posted on 05/10/2020
By Commonwealth Foundation

The Foundation recently convened learning exchanges with civil society leaders working on health and disability rights—particularly the rights of vulnerable populations who have been ‘left behind’. The participants, who hailed from 11 Commonwealth countries and had each received support from our grants programme, shared strategies and approaches to realise these rights by making governments more accountable.  

This is the fourth in a series of blogs profiling the case studies our partners shared. Previous blogs in the series have examined how our partners gather citizen data and present it to decision-makers to improve health outcomes. This month’s blog looks at how our partners engage a range of stakeholders—from government agencies to think tanks and families—so they can advance health outcomes. This is known as a multi-stakeholder approach; it involves identifying and understanding the varied institutions and actors that can create change and considering how each can be persuaded to think and act differently to fulfil health rights.

Community Tours in Guyana

ChildLinK aims to improve the protection of children with disabilities at home, within families, and in education—particularly children with autism and those experiencing abuse. Their approach is based on building relationships between children and their families and communities, as well as government agencies and decision-makers. One innovative method they use is known as a ‘Community Tour’.

With guidance from the Ministry of Social Protection and ChildLinK’s caseworkers, ChildLinK identifies communities seeking more information on child protection or communities where there are high numbers of reported child rights violations. These communities are then contacted to assess whether they would participate in a Community Tour; if the community agrees, a small delegation of officials from, for example, the Ministry of Social Protection, local schools, and the police spends half a day in the neighbourhood, meeting and speaking with each household as well as families in the streets and in local shops. They carefully uncover a picture of the issues faced by children in the community and instances of child abuse. They explain what support is on offer and distribute information (posters and brochures) in shops, schools, and health centres.

‘They have helped build relationships between government agencies so they can work more effectively together.’

Quarterly, multi-agency meetings are organised at which information from the tour is processed. Regional teams are sensitised to the needs of children and children with disabilities, and a comprehensive inter-agency action plan is formulated. ChildLinK and local partners implement and monitor the action plan while regularly feeding back to the communities in question.

Community Tours have made governance institutions better informed about the situation of children, including children with disabilities. They have helped build relationships between government agencies so they can work more effectively together. Children and families say these tours leave them feeling more supported and help build their trust in government agencies with whom they can directly engage. Insights gained from the tours are currently being considered by the government as they develop new guidelines for schools to improve the educational outcomes of children with autism. ChildLinK plans to use future tours to identify community advocates who will be trained to sustain community monitoring and awareness. 

Preventing and controlling non-communicable diseases in India

HRIDAY’s Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Taskforce programme is another example of a multi-stakeholder approach. The Taskforce aims to improve cross-sector collaboration to achieve health targets that reduce non-communicable diseases (diseases that are not directly transmissible between people). It brings together government, health service providers, international agencies such as the World Health Organization, research institutions, and civil society organisations.

At the start of their project, HRIDAY reviewed the available literature and consulted with experts on the Taskforce to track India’s progress against national and international targets on NCDs. Using the findings, HRIDAY established an accountability framework: a document that recommends additional action that the government and other stakeholders should commit to in order to meet the country’s targets. Crucially, the document provides a framework for civil society to monitor the government’s progress and hold decision-makers accountable to their promises to fulfil health rights.

The Taskforce keeps HRIDAY abreast of emerging trends, identifies which actors have the power to contribute to greater NCD control, and helps prioritise areas where action is urgently needed. Due to growing recognition of the greater risk that people living with NCDs have to COVID-19, the Taskforce is accelerating action on risk factors for NCDs such as tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity.

The work of the Taskforce also feeds into that of the Healthy India Alliance (HIA) which is part of the Global NCD Alliance. The HIA connects global developments with national civil society action on NCDs. Additionality, as HRIDAY functions as the Secretariat of Healthy India Alliance, they can facilitate information sharing between the Taskforce and global partners.

Dr Shobha Das is a former Director of Programmes at Minority Rights Group International and Gillian Cooper is the Programme Manager of Knowledge, Learning, and Communications at the Commonwealth Foundation.