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Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand’s Executive Director Sione Tu’itahi speaks to PHANZ about the Geneva Charter

17 Mar 2022 12:46 PM | Anonymous

Interview with Sione Tu’itahi, Executive Director for the Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand on the Geneva Charter for Well-being 

In December last year a senior leadership team of the Health Promotion Forum of NZ (HPF) and its collaborators joined over 5000 participants at a global health promotion conference who met virtually and in Geneva, Switzerland and agreed on the Geneva Charter for Wellbeing.  

The 10th World Health Organization (WHO) Global Conference on Health Promotion marked the start of a global movement on the concept of well-being in societies and the Charter highlighted the need for global commitments to achieve equitable health and social outcomes now and for future generations, without destroying the health of our planet.  

PHANZ caught up with HPF’s Executive Director Sione Tu’itahi to find out more about the Charter and its key elements, such as the inclusion of the knowledge and leadership of Indigenous peoples, the contribution made by the HPF team to the Charter and its relevance to Aotearoa New Zealand.  


PHANZ: The 10th World Health Organization (WHO) Global Conference on Health Promotion which was held virtually and in Geneva last December has been hailed as marking the start of a global movement on the concept of well-being in societies? How did you and the rest of the HPF senior leadership team and contributors find the experience of participating in this conference? 

Sione: Our team was delighted and humbled by the invitation from WHO for the Health Promotion Forum (HPF) to offer a workshop on planetary health and indigenous knowledge at this world conference.  

For HPF the invitation reflected on the close working relationship that we have built with WHO since the 2019 World Conference on Health Promotion that HPF co-hosted with the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) in Rotorua. Our theme of Waiora: promoting planetary health and sustainable development for all was very timely. Planetary health is the most significant health challenge in the world today. And we advocated for the role of indigenous peoples and their co-leadership in that conference. The WHO delegation at the conference were very impressed with our work, hence the invitation to contribute to their 2021 conference. 

PHANZ: What are some of the key elements of the Charter that are of direct relevance to Aotearoa New Zealand and how much of a role did you and the rest of the team play in contributing to the Charter. I believe you played a key role in getting an acknowledgement of the spiritual dimension of well-being included in the Charter. Why is this element so important? 

Sione: All delegates to the WHO conference were given the opportunity to contribute to the Charter. On behalf of our team, I contributed the concepts of planetary health, indigenous knowledge, the spiritual dimension of well-being, taking a systems-approach and elevating the consciousness and perspective to a one-world society, rather than viewing the health challenges from an individual state level.  These ideas were well received by some members of the drafting team of the Charter, who came back to me for some refinement.  Some of the ideas I contributed were also reinforced by one of the members of our Global Working Group on Waiora Planetary Health at IUHPE. So, it was a good team effort. 

The Geneva Charter for Well-being is of significant and direct relevance to Aotearoa New Zealand for a number of reasons. First, the Geneva Charter builds on the 1986 Ottawa Charter. In our country, health promotion is based on the Ottawa Charter and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Second, the Geneva Charter points out planetary health as one of the major health challenges for humanity today. Third, it acknowledges that Indigenous peoples and their knowledge can contribute solutions. Fourth, the charter broadens our understanding of health and well-being to include physical, mental, social, economic, ecological, and spiritual wellbeing.  There are other important aspects of the charter for New Zealand, but these are some to start with. 

PHANZ: It’s so encouraging to see the inclusion of the knowledge and leadership of Indigenous peoples as a key element of the Charter. Do you see this as a ‘breakthrough’ especially when it comes to planetary health?  

Sione: Including the last two dimensions of ecological and spiritual wellbeing in the Geneva Charter is quite a milestone achieved, especially from an Indigenous perspective. It means, among other things, our human family now can see the inherent oneness and interdependence of all aspects of life, and that our environment or Mother Nature is one with us. So, there cannot be human well-being without planetary well-being.  

It is heartening and encouraging to see the Charter acknowledging the leadership of Indigenous peoples and the stewardship on sustaining the well-being of the planet and the environment. This is something that Indigenous leaders and their co-workers across the world have been advocating for over many decades as part of seeking the human rights, to stop racism and colonisation, raising their concerns at a number of international platforms such as the United Nations and its many agencies. We have come a long way and many initiatives are now in place to address these concerns, but we still have a long way to go at both national and global levels.  

Meanwhile, the Geneva Charter provides an opportunity, and while it comes with a huge responsibility, I am sure Indigenous peoples across the world, together with their colleagues and co-advocates, will rise to the challenge. And I am sure we here in Aotearoa will continue to play a leading role. 

PHANZ: Past epidemics, and the current Covid-19 pandemic have shown us the importance of resilient health systems. How much of an impact will the Charter, which focuses on a ‘wellbeing society’ and what needs to be done in order to better prevent and respond to the multiple health and ecological crises we face globally, have on our response to any future outbreaks/pandemics?   

Sione: While not entirely new, the concept of a ‘well-being society’ is a more recent framing in different parts of the world. And while it manifests in different forms across diverse contexts and levels, it has some core elements that the Geneva Charter outlines. Among these elements is a more comprehensive understanding of health and well-being which I mentioned earlier – from physical and mental to social, economic, ecological, and spiritual. Health is not just physical and GDP. We must include the well-being of the planet and make sure all our human systems and activities are contained within the sustainability capacity of the planet. We have overstepped this planetary capacity and that is why we are facing global challenges such as pandemics, floods, global warming, and melting of polar ice. In other words, promoting well-being societies is a health promotion response to these challenges. It was heartening to see at the conference that New Zealand and a few other countries were commended for using the well-being approach and therefore are doing well in advancing the holistic wellbeing of their respective countries. 


PHANZ: According to WHO the Charter will drive policymakers and world leaders to globally commit to achieving equitable health and social outcomes now and for future generations, without destroying the health of our planet. This sounds positive, but how do we get them to ‘commit to concrete’ action? 

Sione:  My take is that the Charter is a call for a societal approach at the global level and down to the local level. It provides a road map for institutions, communities, and individuals to do their part in our collective responsibility in creating a society that is healthy, peaceful, and prosperous, and where power and resources are distributed in equitable ways for the well-being of all at the global level, and down to the local level.  

The Charter has outlined a pathway with five areas for action, similar to the framework of the Ottawa Charter. It requires a lot of study and application over the next few years. Similar to the gains made by the Ottawa Charter in informing and driving initiatives across the world to improve the health and well-being of societies, the Geneva Charter can do the same and more.  

It can do more because the challenges of today are different from those in the 1980s. Also, we have learned over the intervening years that some of our human systems such as capitalism and neo-liberalism, colonisation, racial and gender prejudice, other forms of discrimination, and exploiting the environment are not working and we are suffering.  

Today the environment is top of the agenda in all international meetings from the World Economic Forum to the UN. One can observe the same at the national level. World leaders are now taking health and well-being more seriously because they now see the inter-connectedness between pandemics, the economy, the environment, and geo-politics. In other words, all the determinants of health are connected as part of a whole system. Therefore, we must take a systems and eco-social approach.  

More importantly, we need to elevate our consciousness to think and act for the well-being of the human family, not just one’s country. To use an analogy, our home planet is on fire. Focusing on our individual country room is a sure recipe for more catastrophes for all.  Self-interest is a luxury we can no longer afford. And the spiritual dimension of well-being reminds us that our relationship with our fellow human beings, and our planet must be ethical and spiritual if we are to flourish individually and collectively.  



Join Sione and a panel of experts at a webishop to explore and discuss the potentials of the 'Geneva Charter for Wellbeing' to inform health promotion in Aotearoa in the next few decades on April 7 from 11am. The panel comprises Dr Mihi Ratima, a leading academic in Māori public health and Kaupapa Māori research and HPF’s Deputy Executive Director Leanne Eruera, both of whom spoke at the conference.  

Register HERE or email for more details. 

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