World Congress Opening Ceremony

James Chauvin (incoming pres WFPHA), Paulo Buss(immediate past pres WFPHA), Tewabech Bishaw (EPHA pres), Ulrich Laaser (WFPHA pres), Meles Zenawi (Prime Minister, Ethiopia), Tedros Adhanom (Minister of Health) / Photo by EPHA

Public health is on the world stage this week during the 13th World Congress on Public Health in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Through the theme, “Moving towards Global Health Equity: Opportunities and Threats,” the Congress is bringing together some 2,500 delegates representing more than 116 countries to focus on closing the gaps in global health inequities.

The opening ceremony on Monday kicked off with traditional song and dance performances representing Ethiopia’s diverse and rich culture. Tewabech Bishaw, the first female president of the Ethiopian Public Health Association, welcomed participants and noted that this is the second time this meeting has been held on African soil.

“True global health equity is when everyone has the opportunity to attain their full health potential and no one is disadvantaged or left out from achieving this potential because of their social positions or other socially determined circumstances,” said Bishaw during  opening ceremony remarks.

This year’s Congress took place against a backdrop of widening health inequalities and disparities in countries worldwide due to beleaguered health systems, poverty and weak economies. The problem is particularly acute in Africa where regions there have yet to meet several global health indicators, known as Millennium Development Goals.

Bishaw was joined by Meles Zenawi, prime minister of Ethiopia, who recognized that income inequality has increased massively between and within countries over the past few decades.

“It is my firm belief that the Addis Ababa Declaration on Health Equity, which is expected to be one of the outcomes of this important congress, will serve as a useful reference in guiding professionals and countries around the world in the design and implementation of policies and strategies that will help us achieve the Millennium Development Goals and equitable health outcomes.”

This year’s Congress offers opportunity for health professionals to exchange knowledge, experiences and views, and to share best practices on what has been achieved at the national, regional and global levels towards improving health equity. 

In the wake of new and emerging global public health threats, including antibiotic resistant germs, HIV/AIDS and climate change, Luis Sambo, regional director for the World Health Organization, called for reforms that redesign health systems that ensure everyone – not just the public health community – contributes to improving the health of individuals as well as entire communities.

“Health in all policies is a must to tackle health determinants and risk factors.  Intersectoral collaboration, multi-disciplinary actions and partnerships are important requirements of public health,” said Sambo.

Mighty Fine and Vina HuLamm contributed to this article.