WHO Symposium on Meaningful Engagement: Day 1 Recap

More than 200 participants attended the first day of the WHO Symposium on Meaningful Engagement of people living with NCDs, mental health, and neurological conditions on 15 May 2024, marking the official launch of the platform and event series.

A new platform for co-creation and meaningful engagement

The WHO Symposium supports and accelerates the co-creation and -implementation of equitable NCD policies and programmes by formally recognizing the knowledge and expertise of individuals with lived experience. Symposium meetings serve to develop strategic inputs towards the upcoming Fourth High-level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (HLM4) in 2025, and support knowledge exchange, collaboration, and new strategic alliances between individuals with lived experience and Member States.

The first meeting was opened by Charity Muturi, a global lived experience health advocacy and policy champion from Kenya, who set the scene by reflecting on how meaningful engagement can improve individual lives as well as health policy efforts in countries?

Mark Barone, a member of the Symposium Steering Committee and diabetes champion from Brazil, then introduced the WHO Symposium on Meaningful Engagement, taking participants through key objectives and timelines.

To meaningfully engage people with lived experience for public policy-making, we cannot simply assume to understand the needs of the poor or copy-paste private solutions to public problems. We must include public patients in public policy, those affected by poverty, those that cannot afford to join global advocacy efforts, and those that are lacking literacy, access to digital information and communication technology. Importantly, we need to create paid opportunities, provide contextualized capacity building, and offer logistical, administrative and financial support in an equitable way to truly recognize and value lived experience."

Charity Muturi, Global lived experience health advocacy and policy champion, Kenya

Guy Fones and Maia Olsen of the WHO Global Coordination Mechanisms on NCDs took a closer look at WHO’s commitment to meaningful engagement, highlighting recent milestones and publications and sketching out the current timeline of opportunities for the WHO Symposium to support preparations towards the Fourth UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs in 2025.

Leveraging lived experience expertise: learning from real-world scenarios

Lavanya Vijayasingham, a global health research fellow and Symposium Steering Committee member, then led into the core section of the first symposium day, featuring multiple breakout sessions on envisioning transformative change in meaningful engagement.

Along six scenarios, participants discussed approaches and strategies to advance meaningful engagement of people with lived experience and country level: How can meaningful engagement be introduced and sustained in crisis or low-resource settings, when other major security or public health concerns seem of greater concern? How should community and lived experience interest groups act when local health authorities only engage at the very end of policy-making processes? How can lived experience communities across NCDs, mental health, and neurological conditions coordinate their work on a national advocacy campaign? And how to best present a lived experience agenda in high-level meeting with national decision-makers.

From each of the breakout sessions, rapporteurs presented highlights back to the plenary. Outcomes and discussion insights serve to inform the WHO Symposium’s advocacy strategy to operationalize meaningful engagement in the preparatory process for the 4HLM on NCDs.

Key lessons and outlook on Day 2

Edith Mukantwari, a diabetes educator and nutritionist and Symposium Steering Committee member, and Maia Olsen of the WHO GCM/NCD closed the first Symposium Day by summarizing key themes and reflecting on feedback from the participants, and outlining highlights of the forthcoming second Symposium day.

With today’s Symposium, we are starting a hands-on process led by people with lived experience. It is a unique opportunity to enhance global awareness, boost knowledge collaboration and engage others, and jointly advocate to elevate meaningful engagement in preparation for, during and after HLM4 in 2025.

Mark Barone, Symposium Steering Committee member & Diabetes Champion, Brazil