Friday, June 22, 2012

Reflections from the 5th Latin American and 4th Inter American Conference on Health Promotion and Health Education

Rob Simmons, DrPH, MPH, MCHES, CPH
Program Director, MPH Program
Jefferson School of Population Health

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in the 5th Latin American Conference on Health Promotion and Health Education in Mexico City.  The conference was co-sponsored by the International Union of Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE), the Pan American Health Organization (the Western Hemisphere Region of the World Health Organization), and the Ministry of Health of Mexico. 

The conference brought together over 1,500 public health promotion professionals and students from the Americas for five days in professional presentations, workshops, planning sessions and of course, networking.  The focus of discussion was the evolving health challenges that face the Spanish, English, Portuguese, and French-speaking countries in the Americas from Canada to Chile and from the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean nations.

A range of preventive health topics were addressed, including:  social determinants of health, the growth of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and associated lifestyle risk factors, community health planning networks and coalitions, the use of health promoters and community health workers for health education and preventive health services, and the use of mobile technology for health promotion and education.

I was invited to participate in the pre-conference General Assembly of the Consortium of Universities and Centers for Health Promotion and presented on the health education and promotion organizational and professional accreditation process in the U.S. The Assembly formed work teams to develop policy and programmatic papers over the next two years. I am looking forward to collaborating with a team of faculty colleagues from Central and South America to develop plans for regional interdisciplinary networks in health promotion and prevention.

 I also conducted a pre-conference workshop on public health policy and advocacy education, modeled after our MPH course at the Jefferson School of Population Health. The workshop also draws on the national public health education advocacy summit, where we take MPH students to Washington, D.C. to learn about federal public health initiatives and advocacy strategies. 
It was an incredible learning experience to conduct the two-hour workshop -- in Spanish -- with community and university participants from throughout the hemisphere. I needed to be cognizant and open to different ideas of key policy goals, such as equity and liberty in public policy and advocacy with representatives from socialist countries such as Cuba, Bolivia, and Ecuador. 

Several workshop participants are based in rural areas, with limited or no health data to inform their plans for public health programs and policies. This called for some creative strategies, mostly coming from the workshop participants, such as recruiting youth volunteers to develop and conduct interviews with community members on health needs and assets, and using a “photovoice” technique to visually depict priority health areas for policy and advocacy.

Later in the conference, I was able to represent the North American Region on a panel presenting public/global health and health promotion competencies for undergraduate and graduate health education programs. 

My final presentation was on our Health Care Improvement Foundation/Jefferson, Pennsylvania Department of Health grant-funded initiative on health literacy with hospitals and organizations that serve seniors.  There was much interest in this relatively new topic area for Central and South America and I expect there will be an increased amount of programmatic and research work on health literacy in the decade ahead.

The conference was “infectious” with a culture of camaraderie and collaboration across the region.  Mexico, through its Ministry of Health, Director General’s Office of Health Promotion, showed its “tri-colors” as excellent hosts for the conference.  I look forward to hopefully participate in the next health promotion conference of the Americas, scheduled for Ecuador in 2015.