Chronic diseases and health promotion

Part Four - Taking action: essential steps for success

Chapter Two - The private sector, civil society and international organizations

Civil society. Spotlight: World Health Day

The term civil society refers to a broad array of organizations that are essentially private and outside the institutional structures of government, but at the same time are not primarily commercial and do not exist principally to distribute profits to their directors or owners. Civil society includes organizations such as registered charities, nongovernmental organizations, professional societies and advocacy groups.

These and other organizations add human and financial resources to a wide range of chronic disease prevention and control issues (see spotlight, left). In addition, they occupy a role that is distinct from that of governments and the private sector. In many cases, civil society works parallel to or in partnership with government and the private sector. Sometimes, civil society takes the lead on public health issues. It can stimulate efforts by:

  • supporting the wide dissemination of information;
  • promoting public debate;
  • leading grass-roots mobilization;
  • encouraging policy-makers to translate evidence into action;
  • organizing campaigns and events that stimulate action by all stakeholders;
  • improving health-care service delivery;
  • creating partnerships among stakeholders.

Spotlight: World Heart Day and World Diabetes Day

One of the ways in which nongovernmental organizations draw attention to issues is by means of annual health days. The World Heart Federation, for example, initiated the World Heart Day programme in the year 2000 to increase awareness of cardiovascular disease prevention and control, particularly in low and middle income countries. World Heart Day is celebrated on the last Sunday of September each year. This programme is co-sponsored by WHO and UNESCO and is now recognized by UNICEF.

In 2000, 63 countries and 103 World Heart Federation member organizations participated by running national programmes. By 2004, more than 100 countries were involved and 312 members and partners ran national activities. UNESCO distributed the World Heart Day materials to its 175 regional offices and to 7500 schools. WHO’s Regional Office for Africa distributed materials to 46 African countries and has been directly involved in building successful national programmes. An audience of 365 million readers, viewers and listeners was reached internationally (in the English language alone).

Similarly, the International Diabetes Federation celebrates World Diabetes Day annually on 14 November. The day is marked worldwide by the 185 member associations of the Federation in more than 145 countries, as well as by other associations and organizations, health-care professionals and individuals with an interest in diabetes. The Federation produces a variety of support materials for its member associations which in turn distribute them to people with diabetes and their families, the general public, health-care professionals and the media, as well as to local and national decision-makers.