Civil society organizations/and social movements played multiple roles in recent decades to catalyse Health For All and Comprehensive Primary Health Care driven policies. It is impossible to make a complete or comprehensive list of the several roles played by civil society in recent decades. Ten key roles (adapted from 1) illustrative of the diversity are mentioned.
1. Representing the voice of the people
Some civil society organizations and social movements see themselves as representing the voice of the people especially the poor, marginalized or socially excluded, as the main role in health action and health policy evolution at various levels.
2. Advocacy and Lobbying
Many civil society organizations and or social movements focus their action on advocacy and lobbying for health systems responses and health policy changes. The best example in recent years was the Treatment Action Campaign, in South Africa.
3. Watch Dog role
Civil Society organizations often gear themselves up to play a watchdog role on health situation, health programs, health policies, by watching, analyzing, and reviewing policies and their implementation in the field.
4. Research and Policy Analysis
Some civil society initiatives have focused on collecting data and conducting situation analysis and action research studies on a consistent basis focusing on theme such as equity, gender, social exclusion and other themes.
Civil society and social movements have developed very good publications and education material for popular people’s education on health, health systems and health policies to enhance their informed involvement.
6. Participatory governance
In this role civil society actively engaged with health policy processes and public health systems through dialogue, monitoring and evaluation with development of formal mechanisms for participatory governance.
7. Involvement in multi-sectoral planning
All over the world civil society and or social movement representatives are increasingly being invited to participate in planning, for policy reform, health system development, and evolving responsive health programs and community action.
8. Horizontal and Vertical Networking
Horizontal and vertical networks among civil society organizations and associations to evolve network and coalitions has been increasingly taking place at country, regional and international level to raise awareness and evolve advocacy, campaigning and policy action towards ‘Health For All’ at all these levels ever since the Alma Ata Declaration 1978.
9. Building Capacity of Civil Society
Civil society organizations have evolved various capacity building strategies to build knowledge skills and attitudes among health and development activists to understand the health situation and challenges and be involved in advocating health in all policies.
10. Campaigns and Movements on Specific Health Problem
Civil society and social movements all over the world and at various levels – local, national, regional, and global have focused on campaigns and policy action around specific health themes, special groups and issues of concern, such as HIV AIDS, Street Children, Mental Health, Rational Drug Policy, People with Disability, Elderly, Child labour, Sexual Minorities, Women’s Health, Child Rights, etc.
SOCHARA has explored and played all the above roles over the years. A compilation of these roles between 1984 to 2013 is listed in Social Justice in Health a reflective report of SOCHARA (2014) pg 35 & 36.