Global health centre
19 May 2017

Civil Society using Health Literacy to achieve the SDGs

The Alliance for Health Promotion, in collaboration with the Global Health Centre (GHC) of the Graduate Institute and the WHO Health Promotion Unit, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a thought-provoking conference entitled “Health Literacy and Social Mobilisation to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”. The event took place in the Palais des Nations, Geneva on 18 May 2017, right before the World Health Assembly.

The conference brought together close to 100 participants active in health promotion from civil society, academia, governments, the UN, and the private sector to articulate civic engagement with the 2030 Agenda and to enhance awareness on the importance of Health Literacy and Social Mobilization in promoting Healthy Cities and Healthy Communities. The Conference represented the first civil society meeting – initiated and coordinated by the Alliance – after the Shanghai Global Conference on Health Promotion; and the first to be held in the UN Geneva Office (UNOG). Opening remarks were made by Mrs Nadia Isler, the Director of the SDG Lab, established at the Executive Director’s Office of the UNOG.

WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab raised a couple of evocative questions to health promotion practitioners in her keynote speech, namely

  • How do we create consumer environments that support healthy choices?
  • How do we set standards for health literate organisations?
  • How can health literacy contribute to quality education and promote lifelong learning?

She emphasised that strengthening health literacy at the national level can help accelerate progress on the SDGs.

It became clear during the Conference that the future of health promotion largely depends on how health promotion advocates understand and adjust to the socio-economic and political determinants of health at the global and national levels. However, since top-down approaches do not mobilise the public to an appropriate extent, civil society has a crucial role in translating global objectives to local realities. The GHC and the Alliance remain committed to their collaboration to help appropriately place NGOs in the emerging global health architecture.

The panel discussion was moderated by Dr Mihály Kökény, Senior Fellow at the GHC of the Graduate Institute and former Minister of Health. One of the innovative elements of the Conference was, according to Alliance President Bernard Kadasia, that it provided a platform for the global to meet the local. For instance, Geneva City Counsellor and former Mayor, Mrs Esther Alder, presented their policy and practice to improve the health of youth while Dr Pascal Haefliger, Head of the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Sector for the Canton of Geneva presented the recently-adopted strategy on Health Promotion and Prevention. On the other hand, global health players were represented by high-ranking WHO officials, among them the Director of NCD Prevention, Dr Douglas Bettcher, and the Health Promotion Coordinator, Dr Faten Ben Abdelaziz. The participation of local actors led to the realization that although the WHO holds hundreds of meetings and is based in Geneva, the international delegates are mostly not aware of the local and often very advanced policies and practices of the Geneva government regarding health promotion.

The Conference conveyed how the Health Promotion perspective – particularly Health Literacy – espoused by civil society organisations such as the Alliance can serve as a strategic platform for action on the 2030 Agenda in the process of implementing the Shanghai Declaration. It underscored the importance of inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary approaches for the creation of policy accountable to local needs and realities.

Written by the Alliance for Health Promotion for the GHC Newsletter