Reflections on the 8th Global Conference on Health Promotion (8GCHP), Helsinki – Part two

Last week I shared my key lessons and highlights of some sessions from the conference. This week’s blog aims to reflect upon some further interesting aspects of the conference.

Diversity of participants

A key feature of the conference was the diversity of backgrounds of the delegates and its interactive nature.  As an academic I am more familiar with academic conferences and the discussions at the 8GCHP were different in many ways.  Nearly a fifth of participants were from non health sectors. We did not spend much time on arguing on minor methodological issues or calculation of error bars in graphs. Instead discussions were around practicality, relevance and the challenges to implementing policies and programmes. Here is something I heard on the second day “The researchers’ goal of publishing papers is not important for politicians. Can we change this culture so we can have useful evaluations?”

Site visits rather than lectures

Thursday 13 June was the WHO Europe day.   It involved visits to various locations in Helsinki. WHO Europe shared their most important health promotion initiatives and other regions discussed how they could be relevant to them. There were several site visits including a visit to the Finnish House of Parliament. I participated in this visit and we were welcomed by MPs from the Social Affairs and Health Committee of the Parliament. The discussion showed how Finland can maintain its policies to promote public health through the values of its people. A good memory from this site visit is the statue of a mother with a baby who is saluting the MPs in the chamber for thinking about the future generation when forming policies. MPs said it is difficult for politicians to deviate from that approach, if in general, society believes in better outcomes for the next generations.

MPs of the Social Affairs and Health Committee

MPs of the Social Affairs and Health Committee

A life time achievement award for health promotion was given to Kemo Lepo who was cited as the father of health in all policies. Lepo et al’s book Health in All Policies – Seizing opportunities, implementing policies  was launched at the conference and it provides very good information on the topic.

Emerging voices in health promotion

Another highlight of the conference was the meeting of the group of energetic young professionals. Although there were no formal arrangements, due to the dedicated leadership of a few individuals, we met as a group on several occasions to compile our comments for the Helsinki declaration on health promotion. We were very pleased to see those comments were incorporated in the final draft of the conference statement .

A group of participants who appeared on the video of emerging voices at the 8GCHP

A group of participants who appeared on the video of emerging voices at the 8GCHP

Roopa Dhatt, President of the  International Federation of Medical Students’ Association’s addressed the delegation on behalf of emerging leaders and recommended global leaders should  get younger people involved in a meaningful, participatory way in every stage and every level (global, regional, national and local) in their multi-sectorial work. A video was screened to show the vision of emerging leaders and to highlight the need for opportunities to take part in global health promotion activities. Ilona Kickbusch Tweeted “Great young voices at final plenary – come on! take over from us dinosaurs!   Quickly! SOON!” Twitter was the other key feature of the conference.

Use of Twitter at the conference

Use of Twitter changed the environment completely during this week. The #healthinall was used to communicate and there was a big screen with the live Twitter feed. This allowed participants in the audience and watching the webcast to post questions and chairs picked interesting questions for speakers. Delegates used this opportunity to agree, disagree or to express their concerns during sessions.

A snap shot of the Twitter wall in the main conference hall

A snap shot of the Twitter wall in the main conference hall

The extent of the Twitter activity around the conference was demonstrated by a Twitter analysis disseminated by WHO- PAHO showing more than 1000 tweeters and more than 22,000,000 impressions. Dr Gauden Galea, WHO Europe conducted a network analysis of more than 3500 of those tweets and re-tweets which used #healthinall to show the largest connected group of nodes. We can use this information to plan better dissemination of future health messages.

The younger generation was very active in the Twitter conversation and I met many participants who opened their Twitter accounts during the conference as they didn’t want to miss any interesting Twitter interactions they saw on the big screen. It clearly kept more delegates involved during and after the sessions. Colleagues who didn’t attend the conference, but who followed the Twitter feed said they felt like being there with the live Twitter updates. This clearly convinced participants to expand the use of social media in future events and campaigns.

What’s next after Helsinki?

After an inspiring week in Helsinki most of us asked, “What changes can we expect in health promotion as a result of this conference?” Perhaps this is a difficult question to answer and we will only be able to find the answer in retrospect.

The framework for country action  provides countries with a practical means of enhancing health in all policies (HiAP) approach.  When we heard remarks from different WHO regions in the final plenary, Dr Temo Waqanivalu from the Pacific said we need to take actions before we develop “framework fatigue”. A response to that statement on Twitter said “May be. But we need to agree on a policy framework action to ensure implementation mechanisms are in place”.

With all the different opinions, I would like to pick capacity building through partnerships as the top priority. My choice could be biased by my current position in an academic institution. But I have several reasons to justify this choice. Capacity building could be started immediately at any country from any level depending on the available resources. It is unlikely to be challenged by all the other external forces which are against health promotion. If we build capacity for health promotion solely amongst healthcare workers, we will be going backwards in time. We need to have different professionals such as lawyers, economists, and development agents alongside public health professionals in the same room. The friendships and understanding they build during these events will result in innovative programmes for HiAP approach.

I would like to see the WHO and governments playing a key role to support and coordinate these capacity building activities through strong partnerships as stated by Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. We will be able to reflect on those activities at the next global conference on health promotion and decide whether we have been successful or have just developed framework fatigue!

You can read further details about each day of the conference and reflections on  Professor Fran Baum’s BMJ blog.

Connect with Kremlin on Twitter via @KremlinKW

Kremlin Wickramasinghe is a researcher in the Department of Public Health, University of Oxford and also a DPhil Candidate. He works on the Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology project in the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group. Kremlin graduated in 2006 with a medical degree (MBBS) from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He completed his Masters in Global Health Science in 2009 from the University of Oxford. Kremlin started his DPhil in 2010 on environmentally sustainable healthy diets and he is the Course-Director of the “Short course on NCD prevention strategies” offered by the University of Oxford.

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