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GHAI Event

September 22, 2023

Experts Emphasize the Need for Advocacy to Impact Health Disparities

Global health leaders and experts joined the Global Health Advocacy Incubator alongside the 78th United Nations General Assembly this week for a discussion on the important role civil society organizations play in solving the world’s most pressing health disparities. Moderated by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids/Global Health Advocacy Incubator President and CEO Yolonda C. Richardson, the “Advocacy to Impact Health Disparities” event featured the following speakers:

Yolonda opened the event with a story underscoring the integral role on-the-ground advocacy has in effecting change in public health policies worldwide and reaffirmed policy reform as one of the most efficient and effective ways to achieve positive health outcomes.

In particular, Yolonda highlighted that country-level advocacy is essential to ensuring that:

  1. The people most impacted by health disparities are reached and served.
  2. Essential voices, including those most impacted, have a seat at the table.
  3. Urgent public health policies get prioritized and financed, and governments are held accountable for their implementation.

Saber Chowdhury, Member of Parliament of Bangladesh, explained in his opening remarks that Bangladesh’s double-digit declines in adult smoking rates followed advocacy by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and national civil society partners to sensitize political leaders to “the cost of action” and "the benefit of action.” Policy successes in tobacco control, in turn, had “cascading impacts” that benefited other public health sectors.

Dr. Tom Frieden reiterated the importance of addressing pandemic-exacerbated disparities through a strategic approach to advocacy. “Policy change is the royal road to progress,” he said, and advocacy is required to get there: “It’s only with advocacy that we get the kind of progress that we need.” Advocates must make “the invisible visible”—including the disparities and other risk factors that might otherwise be ignored—and show that seemingly impossible solutions are possible.

Ms. Chika Offor shared insights on how advocacy—in particular, media and budget advocacy—were key components of empowering communities in Nigeria to get vaccinations for COVID-19. Civil society’s advocacy roles include research and analysis, advocating to decisionmakers, bridging the gap between policy and implementation, public education and awareness, and monitoring and evaluation.

Ms. Maria Florencia Leiva issued a call for world leaders to encourage young advocates in their respective countries to help solve problems in their communities—and to lend their support so everyone could work towards a brighter, more inclusive healthier future. “In our efforts to advance public health, it's vital to recognize that advocacy serves as the engine propelling the changes we seek. Equally essential is acknowledging that young individuals hold the key to reshaping the future of public health for the better.”

Watch the full event here: