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Health promotion crucial to facing challenges

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.