PHASA workshop at 13th WCPH

The 13th World Congress on Public Health was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 23-27 April 2012. On Monday 23 April, PHASA hosted a workshop which was entitled: Increasing policy influence and engagement of national public health associations in Africa: progress and challenges.

Laetitia Rispel (PHASA president) welcomed all present and presented the aims of the workshop which included:

  1. Provide a forum to engage with and debate the role of national PHAs in health policy development
  2. Present the results of the survey on PHAs experience of influencing national public health policy and practice
  3. Identify factors facilitating and constraining the ability of national PHAs to influence public health policy and implementation processes
  4. Develop strategies for influencing public health policy and practice in order to achieve improved health outcomes, a reduction in health inequities and improved health systems performance.

Workshop at 13th wcph

Stephen Knight (Treasurer of PHASA) presented the results of a survey conducted electronically among national PHAs. This survey was prepared by PHASA and administered by the WFPHA secretariat in Geneva. The survey revealed that most PHAs are not actively engaged in policy influence but revealed some interest in pursuing this objective and also identified some possible avenues to do so, including annual conferences, meeting with government and politicians, disseminating position papers and media releases and using social media. The survey results set the platform well for the ensuing discussion. (This presentation can be downloaded here.) 

James Chauvin (Director of Policy at Canadian PHA) shared the Canadian PHA’s long history of over 100 years in policy advocacy. The focus areas for policy advocacy for the CPHA have included health equity and social determinants of health, public health leadership, public health infrastructure including human resources, chronic disease prevention and environmental health. He presented two short case studies: advocacy around chrysotile asbestos and Insite, a safe injection site. The CPHA has been able to influence policy through position statements, endorsements of other organisations positions, and using legal avenues where required. He advised on using the relevant and appropriate formats and approaches when engaging with politicians and the media. (This presentation can be downloaded here.) 

Mathias Some (President of African Federation of PHAs) described the experience of the AFPHA. He painted a picture of the current health problems in Africa and explained the need to influence public health policy development and why it should be national PHAs at the forefront of this challenge. PHAs should be independent authoritative voices with a comprehensive approach to policy advocacy. He suggested that the way to do this would be through producing the evidence base to build advocacy strategies, mobilising other actors, sharing the results of our actions and importantly mobilising communities in implementation of health programmes. He also pointed out that unfortunately most African PHAs are young, inexperienced and lack the capacity to collaborate with research institutions to generate the evidence and conduct successful advocacy campaigns. He presented the following guidance to PHAs:

  • Strengthen capacity of existing PHAs to increase their visibility and credibility
  • Mobilise around priority health issues such as maternal and neonatal mortality
  • Ensure that every national event be regarded as an occasion for PHAs to share their experiences
  • Promote framework or mechanism for interaction between researchers and policy makers and health programme officials
  • Establish strong and lasting partnerships with UN agencies esp WHO, other African organisations and networks of PHAs from other continents with more experience.

(This presentation can be downloaded here.)

Deo Sekimpi (UNACOH, ECSAPHA and AFPHA) gave some practical advice on how PHAs can influence policy through their membership who may be largely voluntary but are usually passionate about public health issues. He also stressed the importance of advocacy, generating and sharing evidence and demonstrating good practice for public health action. He shared the successes of UNACOH in

  • Creating a brand “health for all and by all”
  • Defining a niche in community and occupational health
  • Continuous engagement using every opportunity to either talk about public health and primary health care or carry out a PHC activity
  • Creating bridges through both north-south and south-south collaborations
  • Information sharing using newsletters, magazines, radio and TV, newspaper articles, public lectures, annual scientific conferences, attending ministry of health and stakeholder meetings and international conferences

(This presentation can be downloaded here.) 

Laetitia Rispel gave an overview of PHASA and its evolution in the context of a changing political landscape, significant disease burden and resource limitations faced by the PHA. She outlined PHASA’s perspective on policy influence which requires a move from individual to collective action as a national PHA. She presented a framework using research for policy influence and engagement which proposes that the influence may be instrumental (having direct impact on policy) or conceptual (influencing approaches to thinking). Policy making she argued is not a linear process and therefore policy influence is also complex, diffuse, sometimes influenced by chance and requiring long periods of time to demonstrate impact.

(This presentation can be downloaded here.) 

In wrapping up the exciting and vibrant session, Laetitia Rispel summarised the discussions as follows:

  • PHAs should recognise our power to influence
  • We cannot use a one-size-fits-all approach; our efforts are dependent on specific contexts in which we work but there is still a great deal we can learn from each other in terms of experience and tactics
  • It is crucial to produce research evidence and disseminate this knowledge
  • It is important in planning your advocacy approach to “know your audience” whether it be government, NGOs, donors or the public
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