Scholarship student Leah Soutar reports from the 15th World Congress on Public Health (WCPH)

World Congress on Public Health

As one of our star scholarship students, Leah Soutar (Dual-Master student: Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Health) attended the 15th World Congress on Public Health (WCPH) in Melbourne. After five jam-packed days comprising of 17 keynote speakers, 23 world leadership dialogues, 36 panel sessions, 28 workshops and over 100 oral sessions, we asked her to report back on some of the highlights and what the future and focus of public health has in store…

The congress brought together researchers, field workers, policy decision-makers and practitioners in a united forum of knowledge-sharing on key public health issues both current and emerging.

The theme for the Congress was ‘Voices, Vision and Action’ with a central focus on the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and how, globally, we all have a part to play in creating real and sustainable change.

Speaker highlights

The list of speakers was diverse and covered a range of mainstream and emerging topics including global learnings from pandemics and tobacco control, to local successes in addressing the stigma of mental health and placing violence against women firmly on the public agenda.

Dr IIona Kickbusch, who is widely recognised for her contribution to global health, stated that ‘the health of the people can no longer be seen as separate from the health of the environment’.

Dr Colin Tukuitonga (DG and Secretariat of the Pacific Community) candidly took us through the sustainable development challenges faced in the Pacific region. This included the declining life expectancy on some islands. The Pacific region is home to seven of the ten regions with a prevalence of diabetes and 75% of the deaths in the region are contributable to non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Dr Lara Fergus presented the ‘Change the Story’ national framework developed here in Australia which is recognised as a global first. This roadmap for long-term collaborative action outlines that we can change the story that, according to Our Watch (2015), currently sees a woman murdered in Australia every week by a current or former partner.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Importantly and consistently throughout the five days of presentations was the reference to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs comprise of 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of issues that are designed to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. These SDGs make up the common global agenda for the period until 2030 and further build on the progress made in the years of the Millennium Development Goals.

Let’s hear it from the students

The Congress was an amazing opportunity to meet fellow students undertaking a Master of Public Health (MPH) both from Australia and internationally. The congress sessions presented by students spoke about the importance for students to be able to feel that we do in fact have an opportunity to enact change. Not only is this done through exposure to events such as the WCPH but through the application of academic theory into practice.

As a board member of a community mental health organisation, an employee within the pharmaceutical sector and a student of public health, attendance to the Congress gave perspective across these areas and has provided myself with a toolkit to enact change today.

Throughout the five days of Congress, I was able to gain a much broader and comprehensive view of the emerging challenges in public health and how globally we are affecting change in these areas.

Within Australia and through the work of public health professionals, researchers and practitioners that work across a wide range of government, organisation and community levels, there is a lot of global-first work being done which is making a difference both locally and abroad. It is further recognised however that for significant and sustainable change to occur, there is a requirement for cross and multi sector collective action to ensure public health remains firmly on the political and public agendas.