The Future of Public Health and the Future of the Public Health Association

04 Nov 2016 2:00 PM | Anonymous

Opening the PHA’s day-long annual meeting, Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole addressed the question: “What does public health in this country – in fact in all countries – need now?”

He delivered a fairly tough assessment of where public health is globally and nationally and what the PHA can contribute over the next few years. “There is a public health crisis,” he said. “And we are relevant.”

He noted that there had been progress in that life expectancy is increasing by about three months each year, and yet the gap between Maori and others has not closed - a major, unrecognised scandal. He noted national progress on tobacco control, led by Dame Tariana Turia – and yet, again, unequal outcomes, including child poverty, poor housing, and childhood obesity.

As a movement, he described the PHA as “voiceless, invisible” and dependent on the Ministry of Health, which drains our energy on organisational maintenance. And yet he sees the potential for the PHA to be a strong, independent organisation “driving radical collaboration, speaking with a strong public health voice, harnessing science to create social change”.

He sees our diverse membership, connections and vision as strengths to build on.

In summary, Professor Beaglehole, who, together with his life-partner Dr Ruth Bonita, was honoured as the PHA’s public health champion in 2010, challenged us to be the strong independent voice we want to be - more relevant, flexible and opportunistic. “We are more powerful than we imagine,” he said. “We can make a slower and kinder world.”

Professor Beaglehole’s assessment was complemented by the next guest speaker, Helen Leahy, CEO of Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, who spoke on the potential of Whānau Ora. Helen was previously Senior Ministerial Adviser for the former Minister for Whānau Ora, Dame Tariana Turia. More recently she had been a Specialist Advisor, Strategy and Influence at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, and author of Crossing the Floor: the Story of Tariana.

Helen show-cased how Te Pūtahitanga is working to achieve its goal – Māu te ara, ki ora ai te whānau (your pathways empower whānau to thrive) and affirmed the positive mood that had emerged from the Māori caucus anniversary hui.

In addition to anecdotes illustrating the change that the Whānau Ora approach brings, Helen brought with her some seed packets to share, which she said, represent some of the learnings gained from the exercise in transformation whānau throughout the South Island have championed.

The seed packet is driven by three simple ideas:

  1. Whānau Ora – to be understood– must be simple enough to write in one sentence on the front of a seed packet.
  2. Whānau Ora is so transferrable and transportable than anyone can do it; we can all try to make a better life for ourselves; to plant the seeds of change; and nurture its potential to grow.
  3. And finally that Whānau Ora is at its very essence about the notion of growth – the blossoming of a whānau – to be self-determining; to plan a pathway forward and then to do it.

Concluding, Helen said, “Our greatest opportunity and challenge lies in creating and fiercely protecting the optimum environment for whānau to

  • restore themselves to the essence of who they are;
  • to believe they are their own best strategists and design thinkers;
  • and to do everything possible to plant the seeds of change by investing in champions; promoting courage; and identifying the advocates and agents of change that will truly shape a future we can all be proud to be part of.”

Download Helen's speech notes and presentation.

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