6th Global Conference on Health Promotion

Policy and partnership for action: Addressing the determinants of health

7 August 2005

Honourable Prime Minister, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the Sixth Global Conference on Health Promotion. I would like to thank our co-host, the Ministry of Public Health of the Kingdom of Thailand for making us feel welcome. I would also like to thank the many participants who have travelled here for this event from many parts of Thailand as well as from over 100 countries. Your presence and your discussions here this week will bring great strength to our common global effort to improve the health of all people, especially the most disadvantaged.

Health promotion has a leading role to play in this effort. The Bangkok Charter, drafted after a process of extensive consultation, is now ready for you to discuss and finalize. The action you take in the light of this charter can radically improve the prospects for health in communities and countries around the world.

The Ottawa Conference of 1986 is widely recognized as a watershed in the history of health promotion, and has had a profound influence on the development of health policy in many countries.

Initially, the interest came mostly from industrialized countries.

  • The Swedish national goals for public health are strongly influenced by the Ottawa Charter and the global conferences that followed. These include the Sundsvall Conference in 1991 which stressed the importance of sustainable supportive environments.
  • In North Karelia, Finland, improved diet and physical activity have contributed to a reduction in mortality due to heart diseases among men by 73% over a period of 25 years.
  • In California, USA, a comprehensive tobacco control programme has reduced the incidence of lung cancer by 14% over a 10-year period, compared to a reduction of only 3% in the rest of the US.
  • In Australia, road safety promotion contributed to a reduction of 31% in road traffic deaths between 1989 and 1994.

More recently, successful health-promoting initiatives have been seen in a wide variety of settings in Asia, and in many other developing countries. For example they have resulted in:

  • a fall in new HIV infections in Brazil, Thailand and Uganda;
  • increased participation in sports activities in Singapore;
  • and reduced incidence of diarrhoeal diseases as a result of increased hand-washing in many low-income countries.

Worldwide interest in health promotion reflects awareness of the need to tackle the root causes of ill-health. These go far beyond the scope of the health sector. That is why the Charter you will be working on this week calls for the active participation of partners across the spectrum of government, international organizations, the private-sector, and nongovernmental and community organizations.

To increase our understanding of the specific ways in which health can be improved by modifying living and working conditions, I launched the Commission on Social Determinants of Health earlier this year. I'm delighted to see that the Chairman and other Commissioners will be speaking here this week. Their expertise will make a valuable contribution to your discussions. Likewise, your own expertise and involvement in many areas of health promotion have an important role to play in shaping and supporting the work of the Commission and putting its recommendations into practice.

There are never enough human and financial resources for health promotion, but there are always new approaches and methods to increase our options. The global health promotion foundation network, which has its origins in the Victoria Health Promotion Foundation of Australia, is a good example, which has now spread to many other countries. The Thai Health Promotion Foundation, funded directly by a tax on tobacco and alcohol, is another.

Those who recognize the importance of health promotion have played and continue to play a vital role in tobacco control. Their vigorous support was a key to success in the adoption and ratification of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The Convention entered into force in February of this year and now has 74 states parties, including Thailand. We expect that number to reach 100 early in 2006. This is an encouraging trend and we must do everything we can to keep up the momentum. We all share the responsibility over the coming months and years of ensuring that the provisions of the Convention are fully met.

Further opportunities for effective action in health promotion are set out in the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2004. The WHO report on Preventing Chronic Disease, which comes out this October, will provide additional information — and inspiration.

The Bangkok Charter for Health Promotion will be the product of many organizations, networks, groups and individuals in many countries. It will urge all stakeholders to work together in a worldwide partnership to fulfill its commitments and carry out its strategies.

WHO wholeheartedly supports the principles outlined in the draft Charter and its bid to gain recognition for health as a top priority for government, for business, for communities and for individuals.

What is really important about the Charter, though, is the creative action for health it can lead to. There is much work for all of us to do to implement its proposals. WHO will do all it can to support the next steps in strengthening health promotion globally.

I wish us all every success in the work that lies ahead. It is our opportunity to make a vital contribution to health in all settings for all people. Let us make the most of it.

Thank you.