Health is political and global

By Barb Willet, Executive Director

Those are the two of the key messages reinforced at the WHO’s 9th Global health Promotion conference in Shanghai.

As Ilona Kickbusch stated in both her opening and closing remarks, health is a political issue and political choices and commitment are crucial. When we say #ChooseHealth we are therefore speaking not just to citizens, but to policy makers as well. With the adoption of the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development, health is at the centre of a global agenda. It is an indicator, an outcome and an enabler for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In his opening remarks, Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Li Keqiang, stressed “nothing short of concerted international efforts is required for truly delivering the goal of health for all.”

The majority of speakers were government Ministers from around the world (with varied portfolios – not just health) and Mayors from cities around the globe, sharing their commitment to health promotion and local priorities and policies.  Ilona noted that unlike previous events, “it was not experts telling policy makers what to do – policy makers shared their experiences.”

This was my first WHO global health promotion conference and it was humbling to be in a room with such a mix of experts and policy makers from across sectors in over 100 countries. After 3 ½ days of plenary and parallel sessions, what will I most remember?

  • The incredible work done at all levels in China to improve health, their Healthy China 2030 plan and efforts to put in place effective policies and programs across all sectors.
  • The powerful presentation by the Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation from Sierra Leone in which she discussed social mobilization as instrumental in their recent fight against the Ebola virus
  • Acknowledgement by governments that health is essential for a strong economy
  • The passion and commitment of a group of Mayors from Central and South America to make a difference and address issues of equity and the determinants of health in their cities
  • WHO Director General Margaret Chan’s challenge to governments to be courageous, persistent and committed in their efforts, particularly in their stand against powerful private sector lobby groups
  • The bold action taken by the government of Mauritius. They implemented a health related policy that they believed in would make a difference without the regular consultative process for they knew it would not be well received.  They knew the ultimate results would garner support and they were right
  • The integrated multi-level approach, across sectors in Indonesia to fulfill children’s right to live, survive and develop to the fullest extent
  • The repeated call for improved health literacy at the policy level, not just at the personal level

My personal take away from the conference is the need to continually think locally, nationally and globally and vice versa.  My tendency has been to stop at the national level. The Global conference reinforced a growing appreciation for the reality that “health is global” and if we are truly to make a difference we need to think globally as much as we think locally, and that the SDGS provide a unique opportunity to engage all sectors and levels of government to work together to improve health.

I would like to finish with a quote from Ilona’s closing remarks. “The role is cut out for health promotion. Let’s promote health in all countries – health is our choice.”