Dr Trevor Hancock has been a mover and shaker in public health for more than 30 years.
The guest speaker at HPF’s webishop ‘No health without a healthy planet’ on February 17, helped pioneer the (now global) Healthy Cities and Communities movement and initiated early work on the concept of ‘healthy public policy’ in the 1980s.
He has worked as a consultant for local communities, municipal, provincial and national governments, health care organisations, NGOs and the World Health Organisation (WHO), and as a speaker around the world.
Dr Hancock and HPF’s Executive Director, Sione Tu’itahi who will facilitate the webishop are also members of the newly established IUHPE Global Working Group on Waiora Planetary Health and Human Wellbeing, which champions the Rotorua Legacy Statements of the World Conference on Health Promotion 2019 in New Zealand.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg of what Dr Hancock has achieved and it’s hard to believe he didn’t even have public health on his radar when he entered a very specialty-oriented London teaching hospital in 1967.
Graduating six years later wanting to be a family physician and with an active engagement in ecological politics he almost immediately moved to Canada, where he did family practice in rural New Brunswick and then in a community health centre in Toronto.
It was at this community health centre, where he says they served a ‘somewhat underprivileged community’ that his interest in public health bloomed.
“It was clear to me that many of the health problems my patients experienced were economic, social and environmental problems, not really medical problems, which cemented my interest in public health,” he recalls.
After retiring in 2018 from his role as Professor and Senior Scholar at the School of Public Health and Social Policy at the University of Victoria, British Columbia Dr Hancock turned his attention to new ventures.
His recent focus has been the combination of the relationship between human health and the natural environment and the healthy community approach.
He established a new NGO in Victoria – Conversations for a One Planet Region. The initiative works to engage the people and governments of the Greater Victoria Region in conversations about what is involved in becoming a region with an ecological footprint of One Planet while maintaining a good quality of life and good health for all.
“We realised early on that we needed to do work with the community to explore what should be the response to the Anthropocene at the local level. We suggested the concept of a One Planet Region as a way to address this locally (an idea we later learned had been pioneered by Bioregional in the UK, a group we now work with). We defined a One Planet Region as one that achieves social and ecological sustainability, with a high quality of life and a long life in good health for all its citizens, while reducing its ecological footprint to be equivalent to one planet’s worth of biocapacity.”
So, what of health promotion’s role in all this?
Health promotion says Dr Hancock has only in the past few years started to pay serious attention to the ecological determinants of health and the concept of planetary health. This is despite the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion recognising stable ecosystems and sustainable resources as prerequisites for health as long ago as 1986.
“Health promoters must first however learn about the global challenges of the Anthropocene – the new age of humanity as a dominant global force and what new approaches and solutions we need,” says Dr Hancock who will provide a brief update on the Anthropocene at the webishop.
“We must recognise that this calls for an eco-social approach in all our work and all our communities.
“We are not simply health promoters, more importantly we are citizens. So, if we can make it part of the work we do, that is definitely a bonus.”
While there is a need for global and national action, Dr Hancock points out that we also need to recall the sage advice to “Think globally, act locally”. He will address this in the webishop by focusing on the creation of healthy and sustainable communities, and the role of health promotion, especially in starting the conversation on becoming a One Planet Community and society.
Meanwhile, on the best way for countries to move forward post-Covid Dr Hancock says there is a need to push our elected leaders to pay heed to advice from health authorities such as the director general of the WHO, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus.
“Ensuring that the recovery from the recession induced by our response to COVID-19 is a healthy, green and just recovery,” he writes in his weekly column on population and public health for Victoria’s Times Colonist.
“That there will be some sort of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic is not in doubt. But the fight that is shaping up is between those who want to go roaring back to the past by promoting fossil fuels and ditching environmental protections and those who want to use this opportunity to bounce forward instead to a green, just and healthy recovery.”
Dr Hancock’s work has not gone unrecognised and in 2015 he was awarded Honorary Fellowship in the UK’s Faculty of Public Health for his contributions to public health. In 2017 he was awarded the Defries Medal, the Canadian Public Health Association’s highest award, presented for outstanding contributions in the broad field of public health, as well as a Lifetime Contribution Award from Health Promotion Canada.
The Anthropocene is a new geologic epoch, identified in geological terms as a layer of new materials (e.g. glass, plastic, concrete, radioactive elements and their decay products, elevated CO2 levels) and a change in future fossil deposits (e.g. wild animals now make up only 4% of the mass of land vertebrates, with humans (anthropos in Ancient Greek) and their domesticated species making up the rest) that will be clearly seen as anthropogenic – caused by humans – by future geologists.
- Dr Trevor Hancock.