(Note: this post was updated with comments from Gemma Crawford on 22 Sept)
What were the highlights of the recent Population Health Congress in Hobart, and what challenges did it identify for the sector?
Our final report on the conference includes reflections from some participants, as well as tips for future conference organisers, and a smattering of public health selfies shared via Twitter.
Also check the bottom of the post for the final Twitter analytics (more than 22 million impressions!).
Highlights and reflections
1. What is your main takeaway/reflection from the conference?
Gemma Crawford, Curtin University
The need for not just one vision and many voices but to bring together many views and speak with one voice for population health.…That bringing together our whole sector (outside of its content area silos) is of vital importance.
Dr Andrew Old, public health physician, Auckland
The need to think about the eco-social determinants of health and not treat climate change and the social determinants of health as separate public health issues.
Leah Galvin, Tasmania
Academics and practitioners need more opportunities to share so we can inform each others’ work.
Dr Gemma Carey, researcher, ANU
Population health is shifting to encompass a wider range of views and disciplines than ever before, and it needs to if it’s going to achieve tackle the wicked problems set out at this conference – climate change, food security and social and health equality.
Dr Tarun Weeramanthri, Executive Director of the Public Health Division, Western Australia
You need a firm grasp of key facts to do big picture advocacy.
Karen McPhail-Bell, PhD Candidate, Queensland University of Technology (Sydney-based). Member, AHPA NSW and PHAA NSW
Firstly, the importance of a political economy of health perspective was reiterated for me, for what it adds to the health promotion endeavour of achieving the prerequisites for health. This is not news for health promotion professionals: research confirms that we must concern ourselves with broader public policymaking, and that health promotion is explicitly a political activity concerned with the distribution of economic and social resources.
Secondly, health promotion’s explicit focus upon healthy environments for health must include global ecological change.
Thirdly, the Congress highlighted for me that our profession must shed light on the silences we maintain in our practice. For example, James Ward’s keynote address highlighted that one in two Aboriginal females have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and challenged us by asking, “why are we silent about this as a mainstream profession?” James Ward implored us to work to shift the reporting of STIs in mainstream media and politics away from the tendency to link STIs to sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities, to acknowledge the structural determinants.
The fourth element I took away from the Congress is the value of service to the health promotion profession. For example, I was privileged to co-present work from my PhD and the Deadly Choices team, with Nathan Appo from the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health. Our presentation was well received and trended in the top 10 Twitter mentions for #pophlth2015 that day.
Likewise, I participated in tweeting conference proceedings, which achieved a number of objectives: it provided a way for those unable to attend the Congress to engage with its content and conversations; documented content and conversations regarding that content for the Congress; and supported the building and strengthening of networks, which is an important resource for the partnerships required in health promotion. I was also fortunate to chair a concurrent session regarding food security, where a range of thought-provoking presentations was delivered followed by a short Q&A session.
If you’re not already involved, I encourage you to find your own way to service and contribute to strengthening the quality of Australia’s health promotion profession; it is rewarding and contributes to maturing our comparatively new discipline.
I acknowledge and thank the Muwinina people, the traditional and original owners of the land upon which the Population Health Congress was held. I also thank AHPA NSW for the part scholarship, and the anonymous PHAA NSW donor for the accommodation, to enable my attendance at the Congress.
Val Kay, Monash University researcher
My main takeaway from the conference was about the growing interest in climate change and environmental sustainability (planetary health etc). However, this seemed to be more at keynote and workshop level rather than in the streams.
Dr Melissa Stoneham,
Deputy Director, Public Health Advocacy Institute WA
Public health, albeit broad in nature, is a united and passionate group of professionals who are genuinely committed to promoting wellbeing.
Alexa Wilkins, Curtin University
How important it is for all public health professionals to advocate and use their voice if we want to make progress on public health issues.
Melinda Edmunds, President, WA Branch, Australian Health Promotion Association
We are moving towards a new phase in health, one that focuses on wellness rather than illness, and one that considers the environment in a much bigger way. In order to change our approach and see success we must continue to have one strong voice and system that sings the same song.
2. Will you change anything about your work/plans as a result of the conference?
Continue to maintain a focus on advocacy in the work of the Association (and also my research, teaching and practice work). We are also working on finalising a Congress statement of Commitment from the four organisations that can guide our shared work.
Yes. Include more sustainability focus in our planning.
I will be hunting down a couple of the tools mentioned in presentations eg causal loop diagrams
Use networks (national/international) more to promote new ideas and policies
I intend to increase my involvement in relation to the global ecological changes taking place and the adverse health impacts associated with this. I will also continue to (try to!) examine my own practice and my role in the health issues we claim to be addressing as health professionals, in relation to the various themes raised at the Congress.
I will be interested in joining new coalitions such as the planetary health group but it’s important that it simplifies people’s workloads rather than creating additional tasks for us – therefore it needs to be a real coalition building on what has already been done rather than any kind of new empire building
Not so much change but reinforce the need to continually network, generate support and be supportive
I think I have been motivated to take more action in the area of advocacy. Throughout all the presentations and topics covered, advocacy shone through as so critical to addressing key public health issues.
I would like to continue to improve how I engage people when developing or implementing programs, particularly those with disabilities. It was evident throughout the conference that those who valued the knowledge of the people saw great outcomes for health.
3. What were the stand-out presentation/s? Why did it/they stand out for you?
Loved James Ward’s focus on the wicked problem of STI prevention in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, where almost one in two young people are living with an STI – he was eloquent, on message and didn’t pull any punches. “Interventions need to be potent, match the burden of disease, not be single approaches and be ethical and equitable.” “Why do we get such a swift response to Nanna’s Berries contamination but not to this issue?”
Dr Ruth Hussey: describing the Welsh legacy for health via the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act – locking health in to future thinking via systems and place based approaches and about the importance of co-production (doing with, not to the community). She also spoke of the different types of knowledge that we all have and that these are equally important and that sometimes we need to give expert knowledge away…
Graeme Innes. Wonderful, humorous, powerful.
Stand out for me was Professor Ines from Brazil and the journey the civil society and govt have taken together to reduce food poverty and strengthen food sovereignty. My favourite local was Katherine Cullerton and her network mapping it was fascinating to better understand how policy is influenced
Hancock’s passionate and inspiring call to arms on global warming was a standout at the conference. He balanced the clear facts with a sense of hope very skilfully.
Lisa Bero on ‘Industry tactics to manipulate public health research’. Because she showed the need to work consistently in an area to build up real expertise of what are, to most, hidden industry practices.
Dr Graeme Innes – Spoke to the heart of what health promotion and primary health care are driven by: health for all and thus social justice. He provided a compassionate wake up call to public health professionals in terms of how we work with and ‘treat’ people.|
Richard Di Natale – it was refreshing and instilled hope for me to hear a politician who ‘got’ what health is about.
James Ward – highlighted serious sexual health issues in Aboriginal communities, but instead of the usual public health problematising of Aboriginal people, he drew attention to public health’s role (including our silence on major issues we should be speaking out on).
Trevor Hancock – His keynote comprehensively centred the importance of ecological change, showing how human activities have dramatically impacted the earth’s ecosystems and why this is the wickedest problem we face.
James Ward: Addressing persistent STIs in Aboriginal communities
It was a very compelling presentation highlighting the overlooked burden of STIs in Aboriginal communities and the recent outbreak of syphilis in the Top End, and particularly challenged the audience on WHY there has not been a public outcry over this issue (again highlighting the need for more advocacy on such critical issues).
I really liked the Welcome to Country by June Sculthorpe and Ruth Hussey’s presentation which I thought was an inspiration about what can be achieved. Possibly they benefitted from being first as one gets a bit overloaded! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay for the last plenary so don’t know how that went. I also liked the Aboriginal health stream on Day 1 and the Environmental health stream that I presented in.
James Ward and Alessandro Demaio – both passionate and challenging – inspirational even. They truly believe in what they are doing and they believe they can make a difference. Plus all the practitioner based papers where solutions were offered!
Senator Richard Di Natale – He used the words health promotion, prevention, and evidence based. He clearly understood the issues that the health sector face and questioned why we don’t have better access to health care.
Melody Ding – University of Sydney “A widening gap? Changes in multiple risk behaviours by socioeconomic status in NSW, Australia, 2002-2012” Melody did a fantastic job of taking the research and explaining it in language that practitioners understood and could apply to their work.
Graeme Innes – reminded us all that we need to include people with disabilities in the work we do. The question was asked “’How many times do you see a person with a disability in a health promotion ad?’
4. Any favourite “quotable quotes” from the conference or Twitter?
Of the Advocacy and Engagement Panel –
Emily Banks (Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at ANU) quoted Voltaire in asking a question of the panel “those that can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”. I think that this is particularly pertinent for public health and vested interests in particular.
Ines Rugani: “Public Interest is not always synonymous with governmental practices”
Ruth Hussey: “Simplify the message for more effective public health advocacy e.g. Poverty harms babies’ brains”
In relation to Planetary Health – Trevor Hancock “Population Health in the Anthopocene – we must find a safe operating space for humanity”
Sobering thoughts from Rob Sturrock: “we are the last generation able to action on climate change”
In speaking on Healthy Places and Spaces, Senator Di Natale suggests that “health IS a social justice issue” and speaks fervently about the importance of health promotion, prevention and responding to the social determinants of health. “If we don’t address climate change, the rest doesn’t matter”
This in contrast to Senator Fiona Nash who said in the opening “it may be a cliché but prevention really is better than cure” – but whose government doesn’t adequately fund health promotion or prevention.
Graeme Innes: “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine” in relation to disability in Australia.
“when you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence”
Best quote from Julia McCartan “while it is important to use evidence in our practice it is critical to create practice based evidence”
We’ve done social change before on a grand scale – we can do it again. –Hancock
Graeme Innes ‘How many times do you see a person with a disability in a health promotion ad?’
Graeme Innes: “Knock down the attitude barrier … and reimagine normal so that our health system delivers for everyone”
“People living with a disability experience daily the soft bigotry of low expectations”
Trevor Hancock: “The only thing to say about using GDP to measure progress is that it’s gross!”
So many….but I love the fact that there was humour thrown in amongst some very serious issues and challenges. It was fabulous to see all the tweeters!!
“Hope is the commitment to positivity in the face of adversity” – on a slide in Trevor Hancock’s presentation (but I don’t know that it was his quote?).
The quote summarises the positivity that came through in a number of speakers’ presentations, that despite the major public health challenges of our time, there is room for optimism and hope.
If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together – Ruth Hussey
We all have knowledge – it’s just different knowledge. – Ruth Hussey
5. Any reflections to share to guide future such conference organising?
Hmm – I was on the organising committee, so would reflect that:
1) Working together is better than separately to maintain a loud voice for population health;
2) There needs to be content for both early career and senior practitioners;
3) The delivery of the conference needs to reflect the idea of “practising what we preach”;
4) If people want to see certain content and concepts included, then they need to step up and participate in organising – these things don’t organise themselves!! and
5) That we need to do this again and use the forum as a powerful opportunity for problem solving – not just for knowledge transfer but also for exchange!
Need to walk the talk through all aspects of conf Inc. Food! Morning and afternoon tea esp. Lunch pretty good on the whole.
More opportunities to explore how new evidence can inform practice. Even though the HP workforce is currently greatly depleted we need to make sure those who are still in the field are well supported and resourced so we can continue to demonstrate how effective HP can be.
The sessions on policy were packed – standing room only in some! We need to have this as a more mainstream part of PH conferences (rather than a side event). This is critical to the kind of change keynotes drew attention to.
Plenaries were marvellous, with lots of big ideas, and speakers who kept to time and therefore left time for others.
The Congress was a positive, energising experience to be part of. Future conferences could be even more powerful, I think, with a stronger Indigenous Australians presence. For example, NACCHO (there is much we can learn from the community control sector, as the forerunners for comprehensive primary health care in Australia) and/or Lowitja Institute could be partnered with to organise and/or involvement in some other legitimate way.
Another example is the acknowledgment of actual name of the traditional owners from the first opening (as opposed to the generic acknowledgement), which as well as being respectful and appropriate, could help many other professionals attending learn how to do this too. Perhaps the way a conference is structured could model be informed by decolonising methodologies?
Reflections – well one, let’s have healthy food eg fruit and healthy snacks instead of cakes (we say this every year, why doesn’t it happen?!) And the other – I’m not sure the streams were as well thought through as they should be, they seemed a little thrown together sometimes and they did not seem to match the conference themes in any way that I could see. In particular the one I was presenting in, “Environmental health” – surely there could have been a more comprehensive and interesting title eg “Environment, climate change and health” or even “planetary health/ecohealth” or something on those lines. Environmental health sounds quite dated to me. (You could get the impression that while many speakers and some workshop organisers were really keen to get environmental issues on the agenda, the conference organisers weren’t quite up to date on it?) Also, much as I agree with Alessander Demaio’s general NCD free agenda, I really wasn’t quite comfortable with the “guru/inspirational” style of his presentation. Should be more about working collaboratively, I feel.
It was a great conference but I think we need to select keynotes carefully – they should be our guiding lights – what we aspire to be – they must have passion – they must push boundaries.
More fruit & veg options at the morning and afternoon tea breaks! There was some fruit available on the breaks but not enough for everyone (the fruit was always snapped up quickly) and there was always (too much!) cake leftover!
The shorter Keynote presentations were a big plus – they were more captivating whilst getting a range of topics covered.
Allow considerable time for networking. At the conference there was such a buzz when the 950 delegates were talking in the breaks – this creates new partnerships, allows us to share ideas, and strengthens our ‘one’ voice.
And some reflections via Twitter:
The conference catering also raised some tweets, including:
Public health selfies and snaps
• Track the Croakey Conference News Service coverage here. (Big thanks to Marie McInerney).