Health Policy Project

The Health Policy Project has ended, but work continues under a new USAID five-year project, Health Policy Plus (HP+).


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Engagement with Civil Society – A Duty of All Partners in Development

Participants at a HPP Transgender Health Training in Barbados

Health Policy Project

“If you want strong, successful countries, you need strong, vibrant civil societies. When citizens are free to organize and work together across borders to make our communities healthier, our environment cleaner, and our world safer, that’s when real change comes.”

President Obama, Remarks to Clinton Global Initiative, September 23, 2014

Posted February 24, 2015

By Andrew Zapfel, Policy Analyst, Health Policy Project/Futures Group

Civil society plays an important role in any democracy. By providing the space to advocate for and defend the needs of various populations, civil society holds those in power accountable for their actions. It is largely able to do so because of its grassroots knowledge of these populations’ needs, which is critical in the development of effective policies and programs.                                                                                      

Every year, the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) releases guidance to PEPFAR country teams to develop their yearly work plans, known as Country Operational Plans (COPs). These plans dictate the disbursement of millions of dollars in foreign aid and show how the U.S. government will support country responses to the HIV epidemic and ensure an equitable response that promotes human rights for all.

We at the Health Policy Project were pleased that the 2015 COP Guidance, released to the public on February 13, includes a strong push for civil society engagement in the planning and development of PEPFAR country programs. HIV advocates have sought this level of engagement since the dawn of the epidemic: “Nothing about us without us.”

This year’s COP Guidance directs PEPFAR country teams to take the following steps:

  • Step 1: Develop a civil society engagement plan. This plan should detail how PEPFAR teams will engage with civil society throughout the year and include their input on monitoring and overall accountability of PEPFAR programming.
  • Step 2: Convene engagement meetings. Engagement meetings will be held during the COP development process, in which PEPFAR plans, strategies, and objectives will be shared with civil society stakeholders to seek their input.
  • Step 3: Solicit written feedback from civil society. Civil society will be given a chance to provide written feedback during COP planning to ensure that all stakeholders will be heard by PEPFAR teams.
  • Step 4: Provide written feedback. PEPFAR teams will provide feedback to civil society on how their inputs have been included (or not) in the final COP.

As PEPFAR teams begin to develop next year’s COPs, these requirements should be immediately monitored by partners to ensure effective implementation. In order to ensure strong civil society engagement with PEPFAR country teams, it is important that all stakeholders be involved.

Civil society should do its part in advocating for a civil society engagement plan and holding PEPFAR country teams accountable for its development. Civil society must also educate itself on the COP process, contribute to the development of country team COPs, and build coalitions to provide broad input on PEPFAR programming.

PEPFAR country teams must ensure inclusion of a broad range of stakeholders in engagement meetings and in COP development. They must include key populations, faith-based organizations, and grassroots advocacy organizations to promote change in the HIV response. Without a diversity of voices, key populations may be excluded, leading to a less effective response. 

Multilateral and bilateral donors and implementing partners can suggest potential civil society engagement partners for PEPFAR country teams and support civil society in understanding PEPFAR governance structures.

Through such actions, we see a PEPFAR response that responds equitably to the needs of the most vulnerable populations and builds the capacity of local partners to hold their own governments accountable for their citizens’ health needs. The Health Policy Project looks forward to working with PEPFAR and members of civil society to ensure open communication and responsive programming that best meets the needs of the communities we all serve.

More information on the PEPFAR 2015 COP Guidance can be found here:

Related post: Nothing About Us Without Us: The Evolving Role of PEPFAR in Community Engagement, September, 2014.

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The Health Policy Project is a five-year cooperative agreement funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development under Agreement No. AID-OAA-A-10-00067, beginning September 30, 2010. The project's HIV-related activities are supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). It is implemented by Futures Group, in collaboration with Plan International USA, Avenir Health (previously Futures Institute), Partners in Population and Development, Africa Regional Office (PPD ARO), Population Reference Bureau (PRB), RTI International, and White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood (WRA). The information provided on this Web site is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

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