8th Meeting of South-East Asia Public Health Education Institutions Network

13 February 2017, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to address the 8th meeting of the South-East Asia Public Health Education Institutions Network.

I am impressed to see representatives from so many institutions. Your enthusiasm is most inspiring.

This meeting takes place at a significant moment for public health at the national, regional and global levels. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals have set the trajectory of international development until 2030, and are guiding public health programming, advocacy and action.

This meeting’s goal – moving SEAPHEIN to influence public health management, education and action – is to be commended. To address the formidable public health challenges we face, and to deliver on the immense challenge the health-related SDG targets lay out, ambition is a quality to be prized.

Given the knowledge we have, and the many positive examples we can draw on from the South-East Asia Region and beyond, we know that rapid progress is possible.

The central aspiration of the SDG Declaration, and one that is particularly important for public health, is captured succinctly in one phrase: ‘No-one left behind’. Despite recent progress, at least 130 million people Region-wide lack access to essential health services while many more experience poor quality and ineffective care. Over 60 million people are impoverished due to out-of-pocket expenditures.

It is essential we identify who is being left behind. The poor certainly are – both urban and rural. Women in some cultures. Migrants. People who are stigmatized by society because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or health condition. And – increasingly – the growing population of older persons: Between now and 2030 the number of people over 60 will almost double. To close the service gap – both present and anticipated – health systems must be more dynamic, and tailored to the needs of these groups.

The SDG Declaration also emphasizes that many of the SDGs are interrelated, and that integrated, multi-sectoral approaches are required to achieve them. These approaches are especially important for three major challenges that are now a high priority in the Region: anti-microbial resistance, the emerging NCD ‘tsunami’, and outbreak response in a globalized world.

For progress on AMR, the health sector needs to work with the food and animal sectors. For progress on NCDs, catalyzing changes in diet, smoking, exercise and alcohol requires cross-sectoral action. And for progress on outbreak response and health security, implementing the ‘One Health’ approach, which demands buy-in from all sectors, is vitally important. So is a greater engagement with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

The SDG Declaration is also clear that progress on Universal Health Coverage – or UHC – is central to achieving each of the health-related SDGs. Achieving UHC means ensuring that all people everywhere can access the health care they need without incurring financial hardship.

UHC is one of my Regional priorities, with a special focus on the health workforce and access to medicines. It is a priority that underpins all that we do, and which must inform all efforts moving forward.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In each of these core areas, public health professionals – those who focus on population health and health service planning – are critical to accelerating progress.

It follows that as public health education institutions, your responsibility and ability to drive real change is significant. You are training the public health professionals of the future. These professionals need to be ‘fit for purpose’ so to speak – ready to tackle today’s public health problems and identify and respond to tomorrow’s.

To make this happen, and to deliver on the SDG health-related targets, evidence suggests we need to recalibrate how we train our health workers, as well as what we teach them. In the coming meeting we have the opportunity to discuss what is already being done, and how this Network could add or create new value. There are a few key ideas worth considering.

Most importantly, we could first better conceptualize and define what it is newly trained public health professionals can bring to the UHC and SDG agenda. For example, we can consider how they could better work with local government to improve health and social care for the elderly, or how they can enhance NCD-related legislation. We can study how and whether multi-disciplinary training would be beneficial for combatting health security threats such as antimicrobial resistance or zoonotic diseases. Similarly, we could look also at whom we train and where they go after graduating.

Second, we can think about how to create broader awareness of public health issues among all health care workers, particularly during their basic training. This could help them better understand the basics of improving population health, and where clinical care fits in. How we can make that exposure more interesting and relevant, and how we can adapt pre-service training of a range of cadres, are critical questions that need to be addressed.

Third, we can explore how to better promote the visibility of major public health issues and inspire deeper engagement with them, both among other government sectors and the public more generally. This Network has immense potential to drive the discussion and to alert its members to new recommendations and messages on major public health issues. We should think about how to amplify that potential across sectors, and to insert public health issues into public discourse wherever possible.

Fourth, we can think about how public health education institutions can share experiences – both positive and negative – as they strive to meet the demands of the SDG era. Enhancing progress demands substantial cooperation, and one of the best ways we can do that is through the cross-pollination of ideas and experiences. No mistake should be repeated, just as no success should go unnoticed.

And fifth, we can consider how Network members can stimulate better data and research on public health issues that require a stronger evidence base. As I’m sure you appreciate, good research and data is essential to meeting the immense public health challenges we face. To do all this, we will need to think creatively about how to mobilize resources given past funding is dwindling.

Distinguished participants,

By the end of this meeting you will have a clear set of feasible actions that can be pursued by the members of the Network, and which will define the Network’s trajectory moving forward.

As I have outlined, the ability for public health education institutions to have a real impact on public health in the SDG era is substantial. I trust that you will grasp this opportunity, and that together we will move towards our public health goals with clarity, poise and purpose.

I wish you a productive and engaging meeting.

Thank you very much.

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