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Report on the 16th World Conference
in Puerto Rico, 22-26 June 1998

Last updated: 31 August 1998

Dear Colleagues,

As you are aware, the International Union for Health Promotion and Education recently held its XVIIth World Conference in Puerto Rico. The Conference represents one of the most important of the activities undertaken by the Union, and is also the event at which the General Assembly is held to elect members to the Board of Trustees and to establish directions for the organisation.

I was fortunate to be one of those elected to the Board of Trustees at the General Assembly. At the Board meeting following the General Assembly I was elected as the Regional Vice President for the Southwest Pacific and Dr Rosmarie Erben was invited by the Board to take up the position of Regional Director.

This letter is intended to provide you with an overview of the Conference, and to inform you about some of the next steps being taken by the IUHPE. I am also inviting you to express your view on ways in which we might work together over the next three years to build our Network, to conduct activities in the Southwest Pacific Region and to contribute to the global work of the organisation.

The Conference


The Conference was held in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was the first time since 1968 that the World Conference had been held in Latin America, and emphasised the global reach of the organisation.


More than 1,200 delegates attended the Conference from around the world. Clearly, the location in Latin America meant that there were many delegates from the northern and southern Americas, but there were also many people from the European Region.There were relatively few delegates from the South East Asian, Mediterranean, and African regions.

Approximately 35 people from the Southwest Pacific Region attended. This included people from New Zealand and New Caledonia, as well as Australia. It also included a greater number of Indigenous people (from New Caledonia, New Zealand and Australia) than has ever been the case before.

It was, however, disappointing that we had been unable to raise sufficient funds to ensure that a greater number of people from the Pacific Island Nations could attend.


The major conference themes were Equity, Empowerment, Environment, and Economics. Each day the plenary session included two speakers responsible for introducing one of these themes. The plenary speakers included people from South Africa, France, Guatemala (a Nobel Peace Prize winner), India, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Luxembourg.

For people who wished to discuss a theme developed in a plenary session a forum was held immediately afterwards. This was a useful way to encourage people to participate in discussions about ways in which we, as individuals and as members of a range of organisations, might work in the future to advance knowledge and practice in these areas. Brief reports from each of these sessions will be published om Promotion and Education later in the year.

In addition, a large number of parallel proffered paper and workshop sessions was available to participants. And at the end of each day, a networking session to develop an aspect of our work in health promotion was held to encourage delegates to discuss issues and future directions.


What follows is a personal list and by no means reflects the views of everyone who attended. In fact the whole experience has reminded me of the challenge that such conferences present for organisers.

For me, however, the highlights were:

  1. Plenary presentations that were of consistently high standard, presenting issues clearly and pointing to the challenges ahead, including:
    • valuing democracy and the democratic processes upon which so much progress in health is based;
    • committing ourselves to work harder and more effectively to overcome the enormous inequalities in health and quality of life that afflict human progress;
    • being more ambitious in our efforts to influence the goals of our societies and indeed, of the world, by actively engaging in debates and political action to try to ensure that social good is valued at least as much as (if not more than) economic good.

  2. The opportunities for participants to discuss issues raised in the plenary sessions in a forum following each plenary. These sessions were run differently by different moderators, but certainly allowed people to participate in open discussions about significant issues.

  3. Proffered papers that confirmed that contemporary health promotion practice is addressing structural as well as behavioural change;

  4. Global and regional networking sessions that were stimulating and productive of ideas for progress, with particular emphasis on the importance of non-government organisations such as the IUHPE, itself, in setting agendas, providing technical advice, and in advocating for change;

  5. The inclusion of specific sessions on Indigenous health promotion in the program.

Other highlights were the obvious pride with which the Puerto Rican community hosted the event, and the extent to which children and young people were involved - in the opening and closing ceremonies in particular, but on other occasions too.

There were some disappointments, however.

The obverse side of having a large number of parallel sessions was that, for some presentations and performances, audiences were small. Although the organisers had actively sought participation from theatre groups and other performers, the lack of prominence given to this in the program detracted from the contribution that such performances make to Conference programs. Clearly, for the future, if there is to be a strong theatrical presence, the Conference program must make provision for this.

Participants from our Region also identified other ways in which the next conference might be improved. We learned much from this experience, and our Region plans to prepare a brief set of recommendations for the organisers of the next World Conference, outlining ways in which to address some of the disappointments experienced at this Conference, and to build on its strengths.

Regional Network Meeting

Delegates from the Southwest Pacific Region attended a meeting at the Conference. The notes from that meeting can be found here.

General Assembly

The General Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the organisation. The agenda included:

  • election of half of the members of the Board of Trustees (half are elected at each General Assembly);
  • selection of host for the next World Conference;
  • adoption of new Strategic Directions for the organisation for the period 1998-2004;
  • voting on Conference resolutions.


  • Professor Spencer Hagard was re-elected as the President of the organisation.

  • The elections for the Board of Trustees resulted in the election of myself and Yousuf Qureshi (from New Zealand) to the Board. Don Nutbeam was elected to the Board at the last General Assembly and remains in office until the next General Assembly. Election is for six years.

  • The next World Conference is to be held in Paris, France, in 2001.

  • The new Strategic Directions were adopted.

  • The conference resolutions that were passed included support for action to resolve serious conflict occurring in Puerto Rico at the time around the sale of the local telephone company to private interests; and support for action to influence the goals of the World Trade Organisation and the current Multilateral Trade Agreement that threatens to reduce the control of governments on the actions of private business.

  • Following the Conference the new Board of Trustees met.

The Vice Presidents elected to specific positions on the Executive are:

Jean-Pierre Deschamps (France): Coordination, Administration and Membership
Peter Trowell (UK): Finance and Fund Raising
Bernadette Rousille (France): Organization of the World Conference 2001
Alyson Taub (USA): Promotion and Communication
Don Nutbeam (Australia): Scientific and Technical Development
Hiram Arroyo (Puerto Rico): Vice President without portfolio - to assist the President as necessary
Maurice Mittelmark (Norway): Vice President without portfolio - to assist the President as necessary

What next?

The next three years are important for the International Union. There is growing recognition of the potential of this organisation to contribute to the development of effective health promotion practice across the world. Two examples of this are the invitation from the World Health Organization to the Union to take a more active role in developing initiatives over the next three years in relation to Health for All; and an invitation from the World Bank to contribute to the further development of its loan programs around health promotion. The Union is already engaged in a major review of effectiveness in health promotion and the development of effective means to use the outcomes of the review to influence policy for the European Union.

There is also commitment to furthering the work in developing Indigenous health promotion [both conceptually and practically] over the next three years. There is an international group working on this, and initial efforts will be to hold some interim workshops/meetings between now and the next World Conference.

In addition, there will be opportunities to influence the program and process of the next World Conference more generally. We have received some feedback, already, from Regional members suggesting ways in which to improve the event, including:

  • ensuring greater emphasis on the contribution of theatre and the arts to the Conference (and to ensuring that the work receives a significant audience);
  • providing more specific guidance for presenters to improve the quality of proffered paper and workshop presentations;
  • extending the availability of translators to overcome some of the communication difficulties. [ See notes from Regional Network meeting for more ideas ].

The Union is also in the process of revising its Constitution, with a view to ensuring that it remains contemporary and relevant to the needs of a growing organisation. This is a further opportunity for our Region to contribute to ensuring that the IUHPE continues to ensure that it is a democratic, membership-driven, accountable organisation.

Finally, among some members of the Southwest Pacific Region's participants at the World Conference the positive experience of the Conference fuelled an interest in putting in a bid to hold the Conference after next (that is the one in 2004) in this Region. This would be a major undertaking, albeit something that I believe we can do well.

Your views

The Southwest Pacific Region is regarded within the organisation as one of its most dynamic at present. Our contribution to the World Conference and to the organisation's directions and development in recent years has been recognised and rewarded. There will be opportunities, now, to contribute further to the development of the organisation in this Region over the next three years.

We would like to hear from you about ways in which you think you might contribute to the work of the organisation, and about actions we might take together to improve health promotion infrastructure, advocacy, and practice across our Region. We would particularly like any feedback you might wish to give about our Region's bidding for the 2004 World Conference.

If you would like to discuss anything, ask questions, or simply offer suggestions, please contact:

Ms Marilyn Wise
Regional Vice President
Southwest Pacific Region
International Union for Health Promotion and Education
Tel: 61 2 9351 5122
Fax: 61 2 9351 5205

Dr Rosmarie Erben
Regional Director
South West Pacific Region
International Union for Health Promotion and Education
Tel: +61-7-3341 0743

Professor Don Nutbeam
Vice President for Scientific and Technical Development
International Union for Health Promotion and Education
Tel: 61 2 9351 5129
Fax: 61 2 9351 5205

Dr Yousuf Qureshi
Member, Board of Trustees
International Union for Health Promotion and Education
Tel: 64 6 358 1055

Yours sincerely,

Marilyn Wise
Regional Vice President
Southwest Pacific Region
International Union for Health Promotion and Education

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