On Wednesday May 13th 2020, the Healthy Caribbean Coalition hosted the first of two half-day virtual workshops aimed at building the capacity of civil society advocates to recognize, avoid, mitigate and manage conflicts of interest (COI), particularly within the context of healthy nutrition policy in the small developing states of the Caribbean. Fifty-four civil society advocates attended; there was representation from all over the region – The Bahamas in the North to Trinidad in the South representing the Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition and the HCC Civil Society Organisation Childhood Obesity Prevention Action Team.
This series of workshops is part of HCC’s broad agenda to address COI through a whole-of-society approach. In the context of NCD prevention and control, the negative impacts of corporate political activity are evident across all of the unhealthy commodities industries – tobacco, alcohol and food and beverage. The ultimate aim of managing COI is to protect the integrity and work of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and to safeguard public health policy by creating systems to identify, prevent, mitigate and manage COI within policymaking and policy-influencing spaces. Civil society advocates can be major influencers especially when empowered with the appropriate tools.
This workshop aimed to improve understanding of nutrition-policy-related COI issues in small communities such as those found in the Caribbean and increase the capacity of civil society to identify COI. Thus, part one of the two-part workshop focused on understanding and identifying conflict of interest and exploring civil society advocates’ experiences with identifying and managing COI in our unique Caribbean context. Participants had an opportunity to openly share local experiences, discuss their concerns and begin to identify potential solutions for managing COI. The second part of the workshop will be focused on developing regionally tailored tools to assist CSOs in efforts to prevent, mitigate and manage COI in NCD prevention and control.
The virtual workshop was led by HCC Executive Director Maisha Hutton and President Sir Trevor Hassell with regional COI experiences from tobacco, alcohol and nutrition shared by Debbie Chen, (Executive Director, Heart Foundation of Jamaica), Barbara McGaw (Project Manager, Heart Foundation of Jamaica), and Francine Charles (Programme Manager, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados).
This workshop is a continuation of work initiated in 2017 with funding from various partners including the NCD Alliance, PAHO the Global Health Advocacy Incubator, and guidance from global experts including Professor Jeff Collins of the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Beverley Barnett, HCC Public Health consultant and Dr. Fabio Gomes of PAHO. HCC has hosted two regional meetings on COI. The first was in 2017 entitled: Advocacy, Accountability and Conflict of Interest (AACOI) and the second meeting held in March 2019, engaged regional stakeholders including civil society advocates and representatives from the Ministries of Health to discuss Managing Conflict of Interest for NCD prevention and control in the Caribbean with wider Implications for Small Island Developing States. The HCC is now focussed on developing tools to support CSOs and public sector partners to more effectively identify and manage COI in their settings.