Integrity in COVID-19 Response: Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Value Added

The most efficient, equitable, and transparent means of distributing COVID-19 vaccines around the world can be achieved with the help of local civil society organizations (CSOs). This is the key argument made during a recent PTF panel, hosted on March 25, 2021 as part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum, for which PTF was selected as a knowledge partner. The panel discussed lessons learned from CSO involvement in COVID-19 response programs, and how those takeaways may be applied to vaccine distribution campaigns.

Watch the full event here.

In response to the onset of the pandemic, PTF launched five programs in four countries to help local CSOs support and monitor their governments’ COVID-19 response programs. Representatives from three participating CSOs joined PTF representatives to discuss their views from the front lines of pandemic response and share insight into the ways their organizations could help to ensure equity and accountability in vaccine distribution. Participants included Marlon Agaba, head of programs at the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU); Akhila Sivadas, executive director of the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CfAR) in India; and Pablo Secchi, executive director of Poder Ciudadano in Argentina. Vinay Bhargava, chief technical officer at PTF, opened the event with a presentation on the value CSOs add to pandemic response programs, and Haleh Bridi, a PTF board member, moderated the event.

The panel focused first on the relative experiences of the participating CSO representatives—each of their organizations’ interventions involved different activities, target audiences, and different levels of monitoring and governance. Panelists also discussed the various ways their interventions helped to enhance equity and accountability in government pandemic response programs, such as monitoring procurement, identifying vulnerable populations, and sharing information with citizens, the media, and local officials. While each panelist discussed differing approaches to their pandemic response measures, they were united on several points:

  1. CSOs can help to improve government emergency response measures and should be incorporated from the outset of program design.
  2. Equitable and transparent vaccine distribution processes will improve public trust in officials and mitigate existing levels of vaccine hesitancy, ultimate improving local response to the pandemic.
  3. External actors, such as the donor community, must demand accountability from government beneficiaries in order to ensure funds allocated for COVID-19 response reach target beneficiaries.

Each of the panelists’ organizations have begun to adjust their monitoring efforts in order to apply lessons learned to assist with government-run vaccine distribution campaigns. Poder Ciudadano has begun a new project, in partnership with PTF, while ACCU and CfAR are in the midst of designing new programs. By involving CSOs in COVID-19 response and vaccine deployment, governments can optimize their programming, increase equity and accountability in response work, and ensure help continues to reach those who need it most.

This event not only served as a forum for sharing past experiences, but an opportunity to highlight the value added by civil society involvement in pandemic response and grassroots outreach work. Panelists provided first-hand accounts of their emergency response experience with the intent of ensuring CSO involvement is considered and incorporated as a more substantial component of future pandemic response programs and vaccine distribution campaigns.