Social determinants of health

Health promotion conference builds momentum for Health in All Policies

Conference participants from the African region

From June 10 to 14, 2013, nearly 900 delegates from all over the world gathered at the 8th Global Conference on Health Promotion held in Helsinki, Finland. Co-organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the conference centered on the topic “Health in All Policies.”

Building towards this event, were a number of WHO supported initiatives. In 2012, after a series of online and face-to-face consultations, the WHO Units working on Health Promotion and Social Determinants of Health supported the development of a Conference Working Definition of Health in All Policies: “an approach to public policies across sectors that systematically takes into account the health implications of decisions, seeks synergies, and avoids harmful health impacts, in order to improve population health and health equity.” This approach builds on knowledge gathered on intersectoral action for health, first articulated in the Alma Ata Declaration in 1978, and healthy public policy, which is enshrined in the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion in 1986.

The highlight from the conference is the Helsinki Statement on Health in All Policies, which captured the participants’ shared understanding of the approach and laid out commitments and action areas for advancing Health in All Policies. Through the statement, the participants called on governments to strengthen capacity for implementing Health in All Policies in order to address the social determinants of health, as well as the WHO to provide support to Member States and to enhance collaboration with other United Nations agencies in highlighting health in the global development agenda.

Plenary and parallel sessions tackled a wide range of issues on Health in All Policies, spanning from implementation challenges to evaluation and monitoring progress. Existing examples from a diverse array of countries were also presented or discussed, from the local community efforts in China to Bhutan’s work on policy auditing using the Gross National Happiness criteria, or the integrated school health programs in South Africa.

In addition, WHO regional offices organized side meetings to discuss experiences on Health in All Policies as well as feedback on the Helsinki Statement. Finally, Health in All Policies perspectives and plans for follow-up were presented by regional WHO staff in the closing plenary. These plans and perspectives were developed in part through a series of regional meetings and literature reviews funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.