For the first time, the World Conference on Health Promotion will be held in New Zealand from April 7-11, 2019. Rotorua is the venue. The conference provides rare opportunities for New Zealand health promoters, other health professionals, policy makers and others whose work impacts directly on our health and wellbeing, to share knowledge with colleagues from around the world, and to co-construct health promoting pathways into the future.
Hauora catches up with HPF’s Executive Director, Sione Tu’itahi, on the significance of the conference for New Zealand and the world.
What made you decide to invite the conference to NZ?
There were three major reasons. First, New Zealand is part of the global community. And we have common, global challenges that determine our health and wellbeing, such as the environment, economy, education, governance and leadership, which directly impact at the national and local levels.
To address these challenges, we must engage on all levels, especially at the global level. No man is an island anymore. The world is but one country.
Second, and as part of the significant damage caused mostly by us humans to our natural and built environment, climate change is the most urgent issue to be addressed today. Our Pacific region, is where climate change is most evident – eroding and sinking islands, sea level-rise because of global warming, tsunamis, cyclones, and people having to migrate from their homelands because of these disasters. Clearly, the environment is one of the major determinants of our health and wellbeing. So our region must engage in finding solutions to these issues through health promotion and other professional fields. And it is timely and propitious to have that conversation in our region so that health promoters, other health workers, policy makers and other professionals whose work impacts on our health and wellbeing, come together to share experience and explore solutions. That is why we have the conference over-arching theme as “Waiora: Promoting Planetary Health and Sustainable Development for All,” and the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the framework.
Third, New Zealand is a world leader in Indigenous knowledge and health promotion. Indigenous knowledge systems are now being acknowledged as contributors of solutions to world problems. We can share our experience with the rest of the world, and we can learn from their experience too. For example, Indigenous cultures see humanity as part of and inseparable from the environment. Therefore, we humans must live in harmony with nature, and within its limits. The dominant cultural paradigms of the last two centuries regard humans as not only separate from but also owners of the environment, which is seen as a limitless resource to exploit for their insatiable wants. Today we all experience the folly of such perspectives and practices. I think we are beginning to learn some lessons from that erroneous worldview and its underlying values and principles.
Overall, we decided to host because we think that New Zealand health promotion can contribute to addressing inequities and the wellbeing of the world. But also, we have a lot to learn from colleagues around the world, and to strengthen our relationship with IUHPE which leads the ongoing advancement of health promotion, including the development of the global accreditation framework for health promoters. HPF is party to the development of that global accreditation framework which will enhance the efficacy of the health promotion profession for the competency of health promoters and the wellbeing of peoples and communities they serve around the world. Among other benefits, it will also give international recognition to national health promotion qualifications, with positive implications for work in other countries.
What other benefits can New Zealand gain from the conference?
There are a few major benefits, not just for New Zealand but for the rest of the world. Evidence-based knowledge that works will be shared and everyone will learn at the conference. Also, national, regional, and international networks and collaborative efforts will be further enhanced and strengthened among professionals across health and other sectors. We have no choice but to work together, or we suffer and perish together, whether we like it or not.
A third benefit is that two statements from the conference will provide future pathways for policy makers, health professionals and communities on how to address our common, global challenges that impact on our common home, planet earth. One of these two future-focus statements will be on Indigenous health promotion.
A fourth benefit is that Te Reo Maori is elevated to one of the four official languages of the conference. This is a world-first for IUHPE and for New Zealand. It might be a small step, but to have an indigenous language as one of the official languages of a world conference is a giant step for indigenous human rights. It is also a most empowering message to indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities in terms of championing their rights, their wellbeing, and preserving their knowledge systems through preserving their languages. Actually, having Te Reo as an official language is part of our using of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the framework for organising the conference. It is another way of sharing our New Zealand experience with the rest of the world.
A fifth benefit for New Zealand is the aspirational goals for Rotorua to be a ‘healthy city’ under the World Health Organization (WHO) system. And, of course the 2000 participants will bring economic gains for the country, and not just the tourism sector. It is our experience that participants travel to gain knowledge and enhance their professional networks, but they also take their families and loved ones to visit the host country. It’s a great way of promoting our beautiful country to the world. So you see, the conference will bring many benefits to all parties. It is a win-win initiative.
But what challenges do you and your team face in organising this world event in NZ?
There are the usual logistical challenges that come with organising events, such as finance, appropriate venues, communication, transport, accommodation and food. All this while trying to create a high-quality scientific and social programmes that will attract the top of your profession as keynote speakers, as well as other participants who will bring their latest research findings and professional experience to share and to learn from one another.
What makes it more challenging is that you have to build an international organisational structure at three levels – global, national and local – to plan and manage across different time zones with colleagues around the world. Put on top of that the fact that you have to have keynote speakers from the four official languages of the conference – English, French, Spanish, and Te Reo Maori, and consider gender balance, linguistic & ethnic diversity, and age. But thanks to technology, our 100 HPF member organisations, our professional conference company (The Conference Company), and the help of Tourism New Zealand, as well as our co-organiser, IUHPE, we are managing well, with the usual hiccups, of course. Challenges are good and timely incentives to help ensure you do your utmost best and become more innovative and prudent at the same time.
(Sione pictured catching up with Pacific delegates from Tuvalu and Kiribati at the WHO congress on health promotion, Shanghai, 2016)
From an educational perspective, this is excellent professional development training for our team and others in the country and overseas who have volunteered to help organise the conference. It gives you a real sense of how we live and work as a global village – i.e. we work together across national, geographic and cultural borders to address challenges that confront us all as one human family. As for the conference programme, we have a line-up of public health and health promotion leaders, such as Sir Michael Marmot, Professors Fran Baum, Anthony Capon, and Sir Mason Durie, as keynote speakers. And we are shaping up a highly educational and informative scientific programme that our expected 2000 participants will enjoy and learn a lot from.
You will find more details on the conference website http://www.iuhpe2019.com/
We would love to see all our health promotion and public health colleagues around the world, especially those here in the country, join us. Because public health and health promotion is so relevant to other sectors, such as education, local government, social work, community development, and sustainable development, we would like to think that this is also a conference for colleagues working in those sectors. Health and wellbeing in its broadest meaning and dimensions, such as physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, economic wellbeing, social wellbeing, cultural wellbeing, and environmental wellbeing, are at the core of the work of most sectors.
You started planning the conference in 2016, but you have been involved with IUHPE for more than 10 years now. For example, you have been a member of the IUHPE Global Executive Board, and Vice President of IUHPE for the South West-Pacific region for some six years. What prompted you to be involved with IUHPE?
The main reason is we are now a global village. Our global challenges are not only inter-connected but they impact on all levels – from the local to the global, and vice-versa. IUHPE provides that global platform and network for health promotion and HPF, hence my involvement. Our focus is still New Zealand, but we include other levels in our work here at HPF. Take smoking and climate change as two health challenges. They impact on all levels. New Zealand’s involvement at the global level helps to find more lasting solutions at its national level for both issues.
The other reason is that good governance and effective leadership is needed if we are to be effective in whatever field we work. HPF saw the opportunity to lead and we took it up on behalf of the South-West Pacific region, which covers NZ, Australia, all other Pacific island nations, and some countries in South East Asia.
My first IUHPE world conference on health promotion was in 2007 in Vancouver, Canada. I attended along with former HPF Executive Director, Dr Alison Blaiklock, and another former HPF co-worker, Joanne Aoake. I saw then the opportunity to build the relationship with IUHPE, and bring my experience and learning to our team and the health promotion workforce. Hosting the conference is the latest development of that professionalrelationship with IUHPE. But there are other developments such as having our Deputy Executive Director, Trevor Simpson, as the Chair of the International Network for Indigenous Health Promotion Professionals (INIHPP) of IUHPE. HPF is also leading the work for New Zealand health promotion to become part of the global accreditation framework for health promotion, recently established by IUHPE. IUHPE has a standing work relationship with WHO, which is a partner of the conference, along with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), being led by Dr Colin Tukuitonga, and the Australian Health Promotion Association.
(Taking time out for a photo with Professor Ilona Kickbusch, one of the architects of the Ottawa Charter, 1986.)
You have years of working as a journalist in Tonga and the Pacific, then retrained as a teacher and taught at some of the tertiary educational institutions here in New Zealand. Why did you later choose to work in health? And what has the experience been like for you?
Health and education are two important and related determinants of the wellbeing and prosperity of Pacific peoples, in fact, all people. Good education means not only you are enlightened, but you also have a decent income which enables you to afford a healthy life, and be in control of your future. I learned these things early on through my family experience, especially from my grandparents and parents. They were humble folk from humble beginnings in Tonga, but education, being prudent, hard work and serving others were central values and goals.
My mass communication, teaching, and strategic capacity-building experience were very handy when I was invited to set up a Pacific team at the Auckland Regional Public Health Service some 20 years ago. At the time I was starting to build the Pacific capacity of Massey University. I saw the invitation as an opportunity to do the same strategic work for Pacific peoples in the health sector as well. I was later seconded to build the Pacific capacity of HPF, which led to where I am today. For more than 10 years, I shared my time between Massey University and HPF, until I decided recently to focus on my health work, for now.
And your strategic outcomes for the conference?
There are at least three strategic outcomes. And the conference is a platform to enhance those long-term outcomes: Strengthen our co-leadership in health promotion at the global level, such as our work with IUHPE, which not only elevates the prestige of HPF, but more importantly, helps to build the capability and capacity of the health promotion workforce and sector in NZ and the world, for the wellbeing of society. Enhance our leading contribution to the world in Indigenous health promotion; Ensure the sustainable strength and longevity of HPF and the health promotion sector in New Zealand.