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Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand Runanga Whakapiki Ake i te Hauora o Aotearoa
Global, News

HPF caught up with public health physician and leading authority on planetary health and health promotion, Professor Anthony Capon to get his views on a wide range of issues including the link between environmental health and COVID-19

Q: First of all we’d like to congratulate you on your appointment as Director of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI). You were Professor of Planetary Health in the School of Public Health at Sydney University for a number of years. What motivated you to take up this new role and can you tell us a bit about what it entails?

A: I was attracted to MSDI because it’s a leading academic institute focused on sustainable development, with more than 100 staff from a wide range of disciplines and a lively cohort of graduate research students.  MSDI was established more than 10 years ago and hosts the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific hub for the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).  MSDI is different to conventional academic institutes because it is focused on impact.  We don’t just describe problems.  We work with partners on solutions.  It’s worth mentioning that as well as directing MSDI, I also hold a chair of planetary health in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash.

Q: You were one of the plenary speakers at the global health promotion conference in Rotorua last April where you spoke on Planetary Health: Promoting health in the Anthropocene. What were some of the highlights of the conference for you?

A: The IUHPE world conference is always a terrific event.  It’s a marvellous opportunity to connect with health promotion colleagues from around the world, to share experiences and learn together.  For me, the highlight of Waiora—the 23rd of these conferences—was the focus on indigenous knowledge in health promotion.  Planetary health may be a new concept in health promotion policy and research, however it is not a new concept for indigenous people.  For indigenous people the connections between human health and the health of country are central spiritual foundations and deeply embedded in cultural practices.  More generally, it was terrific that the conference organisers chose the theme of Promoting Planetary Health and Sustainable Development for All.  The nexus between health promotion and sustainable development warrants much greater attention in our health promotion programs.

Q: You spoke at the conference about how you hoped many would want to learn more about Maori understanding of health and wellbeing and broad indigenous understandings. Does your Ngāi Tahu (South Island) heritage give you more appreciation of this? Do you think enough is being done around the world to promote indigenous knowledge?

A: Certainly, it was a great privilege to grow up as a member of a Ngāi Tahu family in the Catlins.  I fondly recall my childhood on a sheep farm outside Owaka in south Otago.  My great grandmother, Mary Brown, imbued me with an enduring respect for Mother Nature which continues to guide my work and everyday practices.  New Zealand provides a really positive example for the world in valuing indigenous ways of knowing.  However, we definitely need to do more in this space, particularly in countries like Australia where I was raised and subsequently trained in health promotion.

Q: We all know countries like the UK, US and Japan are historically responsible for most of the greenhouse emissions in the world, but closer to home, Australia’s per capita carbon dioxide footprint is now one of the highest in the world. NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by 2.2% in 2017 from the previous year. Do you think these countries are doing enough to reduce their CO2 emissions and if not what more can be done?

A: Indeed, all high income countries need to do more.  My current home country, Australia, in particular, must do more.  If all people in the world lived as Australians do, we would need five planets—not one, but five.  It is clearly not sustainable, nor fair.  As a wealthy country, Australia should also urgently transition from its reliance on coal for a large part of its export income.  In addition to health impacts of climate change, globally more than 400,000 premature deaths each year are attributable to the toxic pollution from coal burning.  As well as reducing our own carbon footprint, Australia, and other high income countries, should be supporting urgent transitions to healthy and sustainable development pathways in low and middle income countries.

Q: Looking at the way the world has been heading since the industrial revolutions one could be forgiven for thinking it’s all doom and gloom. But there is a rising consciousness and determination, evidenced by worldwide protests recently, to set the planet back on the right track. Does this wave of action, especially from younger generations, give you optimism for our future generations?

A: It is terrific to see young people speaking out about these important global environmental challenges.  Young people learn about these issues at school because it is now a core part of the curriculum.  Notably, many of our elected officials—often from an older generation—did not have the opportunity to learn about these issues at school and this may help to explain why sometimes they deny their importance.  Of course, vested interests in business as usual is also part of the problem.  While the urgency for action is clear, I do remain hopeful that we can come together and act in the interest of the wellbeing of future generations.  This is the core ambition of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Q:  You are one of the few public health physicians in Australia who trained in health promotion. Your message for health promoters is that there is a need to bring planetary consciousness to health promotion education, research, policy and practice. Please can you elaborate more on this, and give some examples of how health promoters can achieve this?

A: In health promotion, we know the importance of behavioural risk factors.  We also know the importance of health literacy and of social determinants of health.  However, we’ve seemingly forgotten that human health entirely depends on the health of natural systems.  Indigenous ways of knowing about health are relevant again here.  In health promotion, we need a paradigm shift to eco-social understandings of health—an integrative approach to health promotion that acknowledges ecological, economic and social foundations of health.  In essence, we need to be ‘conscious’ of the planetary in all of our work.

Q: Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic is currently sweeping across the world.  Should planetary health understanding feature in our responses to this pandemic?

A: The bottom line is that the COVID-19 pandemic is a planetary health issue.  There is mounting research evidence that the emergence of infectious diseases (e.g. SARS, Ebola and Zika) is being enabled by environmental change, including changing climatic conditions, loss of biodiversity, urbanisation and ecosystem degradation. These environmental changes are providing new opportunities for contact between animals and people with potential for transmission of infectious agents.

In this context, while it is entirely appropriately that health systems are currently focused on provision of health care to patients and interventions to prevent human to human transmission (including social distancing and vaccine development), it’s also important we look upstream and invest in tackling the underlying causes of the problem through biodiversity conservation and stabilising the climate. This will help avoid transmission of diseases from animals to humans in the first place.


Maori, News

When HPF’s Executive Director, Trevor Simpson and his wife Vanessa decided to make a radical change to their career-based lifestyle, sell up and take to the road for a new adventure little did they realise they would soon find themselves in ‘lockdown’ up North. Stuck in a beautiful and relatively empty holiday park has given them plenty of time for reflection, writes Trevor.

By Trevor Simpson

In the weeks preceding the Covid19 level 4 “lockdown” (I do loathe the use of this word) my wife Vanessa and I had made the decision to completely change the career-based lifestyles we were living. Our plan was to sell our small apartment in Auckland, buy a nice caravan and traverse this beautiful country unencumbered and free to delight in the natural environment. The first two parts to the plan went remarkably well – within three days of listing, our apartment had sold and a week later we had acquired the caravan. Vanessa had resigned from her role as a registered nurse and I was fortunate enough to negotiate a reduced role with HPF that would allow me to continue to contribute in a small way to the important work that HPF does, while roaming the countryside.

Barely a week into our excursion, which comprised small stays in Orewa and then Kororareka, Russell, we found ourselves in Matakohe in the northern Kaipara. Here sits a beautiful holiday park set on a rise overlooking the harbor and the mangrove estuaries that spread out across the expansive water catchment that is the Kaipara. On the day we arrived the Covid19 alert level moved from 3 to 4, our travel plans came to an abrupt halt and here we were to be held for the duration of a 4-week lockdown.

A strange but fortunate outcome was the relative emptiness of the park (left). The off-season had just begun and other than the owner and her family there were only three other groups in the park. We later found out that two of these groups were visitors from the United States and Rarotonga, Cook Islands waiting out the mandatory stand-down period and hoping to receive clearance to return home. Unlike ours, theirs is a tenuous and stressful situation. They remain, like us, in isolation in Matakohe, although with enviable social distancing (50 metres or so) and the comfort of  perfectly arranged bubbles. Amongst the groups, the general mood of conversation is one of hope, a sense of gratitude and good fortune, and I sense, a level of fortitude and belief that the crisis will soon end.

In the days since arriving I have found an unexpected sense of calm and contemplation. The restrictions imposed by Covid-19 have provided an unanticipated opportunity to take in those things that I might ordinarily have overlooked on any busy working day. This is a quiet and peaceful place but when you sit and listen, it resonates with the sound of the wind, the rustling of leaves, of birdsong and the melodic trills of insects. We witness Papatuanuku clothed in vibrant autumn hues. Here you see the sun rise and set every day. You watch the tides come and go. There is a pulse and rhythm to nature that I had forgotten somehow.

In April of 2019, the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) together with HPF held the 23rd World Conference on Health Promotion in Rotorua. At this conference we saw the drafting and ratification of the Waiora – An Indigenous People’s Statement for Planetary Health and Sustainable Development.  For the first time we witnessed the inclusion of indigenous knowledge, world views and indigenous health promotion in a high-level legacy document. In doing so, the health promotion global community agrees that Indigenous knowledge should be part and parcel of the work we do in addressing the global challenges that confront humanity.

The Waiora Statement explains:

Core features of indigenous worldviews are the interactive relationship between spiritual and material realms, that our planet has its own life force, the special nature of our relationships with ancestral lands and the interconnectedness and interdependence between all that exists, which locates humanity as part of the planet’s ecosystems.

In reflecting on the Waiora Statement, this Matakohe experience has reminded me of two important aspects in terms of my role as an indigenous health promoter. The first is that in expressing my indigeneity I am asserting my intimate connection to the natural world, to nature, to Papatuanuku. I am not separate from, I am not above, but part of nature. My role and responsibility then, is to protect and sustain her for future generations – an overriding obligation to be embraced.

The second point and probably the most important, is that the glue holding all of this together is spiritual. It is Wairua.

Matakohe has uplifted me in unexpected ways. It has helped to me to “re-see” and reconnect. It has helped me to understand again what is important and what I’m called to. Covid-19 in all its global devastation and frightening impact will soon end but my indigenous spirit and the way I see the world as a health promoter will remain for the rest of my life.



  • Last November (2019) former board chair Zoe Hawke was farewelled by HPF after completing her three terms. Upon her departure Hauora Newsletter asked Ms Hawke, who is the Community Engagement, Policy & Advocacy Manager at the Mental Health Foundation to reflect on what some of her highlights were while serving on the Board, her work at MHF and what has become somewhat of a passion of hers, building the Like Mind Like Mine (LMLM) work into a movement

Q: When you look back at your time on HPF’s board, as a member and then chair from 2017, what are some of the highlights for you?

A: Working with clever and thoughtful board members, watching Sione and his ethical leadership, World Health Promotion Conference in Rotorua last year, seeing the amount of work the small HPA team pump out – great things can come from a small team.

Q: What were some of the most memorable parts of the conference for you?

A: Keynote speakers were amazing, the focus on indigenous speakers – fabulous. Great to meet so many people from around the world with health promotion passion   Favourite keynote speaker quote: “Tuhoe thousands of years old, Governments have three-year terms. So really we are working with 3-year-old.”

Q: Can you tell us a bit about what your role as Community Engagement, Policy & Advocacy Manager at the Mental Health Foundation entails and what is the most rewarding parts about your job?

A: I manage two teams at MHF, the Community Engagement/Health Promotion team and the Policy and Advocacy team. Both roles keep very busy, both teams also consist of amazingly clever and passionate people who work in a real collective way to increase mental wellbeing for our communities. Both teams work together to making submissions to central and local government, connecting with communities, iwi, hapū whānau, gathering real-life insights from our networks, providing policy advice from these insights and by informing the public about opportunities to get involved though our community engagement work, resource development, training, media work, newsletters and social channels. Together we focus on systemic advocacy rather than providing individual advocacy support. Our vision is to move away from developing policy and resources in isolation, to a place where we are working closely with communities, hapū, iwi, lived experienced,  and where we work with other organisations as a united front to create the change that is needed.

Q: Te Tiriti o Waitangi and The Ottawa Charter are the core documents from which the Foundation’s principles and values are based. How is this reflected in its work?

A: We have a Māori development strategy aligned to the broader Mental Health Foundation (MHF) Strategy.  The purpose of this strategy is to support the MHF in becoming more responsive to Māori  and developing into an organisation where we are the best Treaty Partners that we can possibly be.  Specifically, the strategy enables the MHF to develop internal capability in Tikanga and Te Ao Māori and external capability in building relationships and engagement with Māori. The Māori Development Strategy highlights the MHF ongoing commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi through guiding and prioritising our work to support the flourishing of Māori.  The strategy strongly recognises: The partnership foundation for Aotearoa/NZ underpinned by the Tiriti o Waitangi; The aspiration of Whānau, Hapū and Iwi for self-determination;The history of colonisation and the inter-generational trauma and inequitable social outcomes it created and the significant inequities o f mental health and wellbeing outcomes for Māori.

MHF is also a staunch supporter of the The Ottawa Charter, and its underlying message that to improve the health of populations and individuals there is a need to look wider than just providing public health services.

Q: Anything new on the horizon?

A: We are really looking forward to revamping our Like Mind Like Mine (LMLM) work to create more of a social movement that ends discrimination and prejudice against those in mental distress. The LMLM work is a bit of a passion of mine, and I really look forward to creating the movement.  It is unacceptable how many people are discriminated against because of their mental distress, It’s time to stand up against this discrimination and prejudice. We are starting to build the movement on many levels, including our community grants.

The grants are looking for projects designed to encourage people to be ‘Upstanders/Tūmāia” in your whānau/ hapū/iwi/community. Standing up against the discrimination and prejudice of people experiencing mental distress.


(Banner photo: HPF Kaumatua Richard Wallace, Zoe Hawke, Sharon Kennedy-Muru (Board member) and HPF CE Sione Tu’itahi)



Health promotion is sorely needed in a world full of challenges, particularly in the COVID-19 context, says Dr Richard Egan in an interview with Hauora Newsletter.

Dr Egan spoke with HPF after recently completing two years as a Board member. The lecturer at the University of Otago acknowledged the critical role of HPF as an umbrella group for health promoters in New Zealand and the development of an accreditation framework by HPF for health promoters and providers in the nation.

Q: What are some of the highlights of your time as a board member with HPF?

A: The HPF governance model exemplified our Treaty commitment, this was a highlight for me and unique when compared to other Boards I’ve been on. Regular tikanga is followed and our kaumatua helps make it all safe. Also, the relationship a Board has with the CEO is central to whether it works or not, and I’d like to thank Sione for his leadership and conscious (and not always easy) approach to working constructively with the Board. Also, it was a pleasure to work with so many HP leaders from around the country.  Lastly, it’s not always easy to keep a small NGO afloat and it’s critical that we have the HPF as an umbrella group for health promoters in NZ. So particularly in the last 10 years it’s been a credit to governance and management that we’re still here and working for a better world.

Q: What did you take away from the World Health Promotion Conference in Rotorua?

A: Health promotion is sorely needed in a world full of challenges. The climate crisis was front and centre at the conference; and it was indigenous solutions that offered some hope. But this was tempered by the reality that indigenous approaches are only slowly being acknowledged, not least by mainstream giving way to indigenous leaders. It seems to me there are two issues here: one, giving way (and we’re hardly begun that); and secondly, highlighting indigenous ontologies/world views and epistemologies/knowledge as equally valid.

Q: As you know HPF is leading the development of an accreditation framework for health promoters and providers in New Zealand. How big an impact on health promotion do you think it will have on health promotion in the country?

A: Huge! We teach under and postgrad health promotion here at Otago Uni, and we’re looking forward to accreditation. It’s been a long time coming and my impression is that we’re doing it in a uniquely NZ way that is internationally recognised.

Q: What do you view as the challenges for health promotion in NZ moving forward?

A: Accreditation will still be a challenge with assessment etc. but is definitely worthwhile. But we still have the old chestnuts – doing our work well and telling the stories of that work. We’ve been doing some research on health promoters’ work across the country and it is often the system that inhibits good practice – I think we need to work harder on ‘reorienting the health system’ (and maybe even public health). We also need evidence informed challenges to those systems that undermine people’s wellbeing (determinants of health and so on); I think we’re only just touching the surface of this work, with too much of our focus downstream on lifestyle issues. And most currently, we need to add a HP approach to the COVID-19 context. We need to work with our wider public health colleagues helping to make healthy choices the easy choices in affected communities.

Q: In your own sphere of work do you have any new developments/projects lined up for the future?

A: I’m doing lots of teaching this year and loving it – great students asking smart and hard questions. I’m working with colleagues to get publications out on the NZ HP planning and evaluation context (led by Sarah Wood); and the state of mental health promotion in NZ (led by Brooke Craik). And I continue to work on spirituality in health promotion and public health, cancer issues and euthanasia.