Advocating for the establishment of a Health Promotion Foundation in Bangladesh

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Advocating for the establishment of a Health Promotion Foundation in Bangladesh

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By: Debra Efroymson

Advocating for the establishment of a Health Promotion Foundation in Bangladesh is timely, given the renewed worldwide focus on health, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. International examples of health promotion foundations, such as VicHealth and ThaiHealth, show the possibility of establishing an effective health promotion organization, supported by sustainable funding from a surcharge on harmful products such as tobacco, with a mission of ensuring public health.

HealthBridge is pleased to be part of the advocacy efforts to raise awareness about the need for and the possibility of establishing a Health Promotion Foundation in Bangladesh. Along with Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust, ThaiHealth, Bangladesh Institute of Planners, and the Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance, HealthBridge recently co-organized “The Conference on Sustainable Funding for Health Promotion” virtually, on February 8th and 9th, in addition to an invitation-only post-conference workshop on February 10th. Speakers at the conference included the HealthBridge Regional Director, Debra Efroymson, as well as well-known Bangladeshi representatives from health, environment, and urban planning authorities, including Members of Parliament.

The main purpose of the conference was to bring together stakeholders in public health and to facilitate knowledge sharing about the importance of health promotion in Bangladesh. The conference also aimed to facilitate discussions about the possibility of establishing a Health Promotion Foundation, financed by a surcharge on harmful products. Conference attendees included experts from various fields relevant to health promotion including public health, urban planning and transport policy.

The following topics and questions were discussed and addressed at the conference:

  • Health vs. treatment: What is the difference between health promotion and treatment of disease? Why is health promotion important and what does it mean in practice?
  • A Health Promotion Foundation in practice: What is the feasibility of establishing a Health Promotion Foundation in Bangladesh? What kind of agency could it be: autonomous or semi-autonomous? What is needed to create one, who would oversee it, and how could sustainable funding be guaranteed? What international models are there for health promotion foundations and how successful have they been?
  • Surcharge on harmful products and funding: What are possible funding sources for a Health Promotion Foundation? Is it possible to utilize the existing tobacco surcharge? Could there be new surcharges on harmful products, such as sugary beverages, plastic bottles, or motorcycles, to help fund the foundation?
  • Topics and scope of work: What issues should a Health Promotion Foundation address, such as mental health, NCDs, Covid-19, safe travels, etc.? What kinds of activities could a Health Promotion Foundation carry out: communications, coordination, advocacy, planning, implantation, funding?
  • Input from the public: What would the public like to see from a Health Promotion Foundation in terms of issues, working methods, and source of funding?

In addition, an invitation-only post-conference workshop was organized on February 10th. The workshop brought together advocates from around the country to discuss how to approach local Members of Parliament, in order to advocate for establishing a Health Promotion Foundation in Bangladesh.

The conference was well-attended and generated thoughtful discussion from health experts, environmentalists, urban planners, and others within government and civil society. Presenters spoke strongly of the need for a separate organization dedicated to health promotion in Bangladesh, and of the replicability of the Thai model. The first CEO of ThaiHealth, Professor Dr. Prakit Vathesatogkit, and the Current CEO Dr. Supreda Adulyanon, both addressed the conference via video, encouraging Bangladesh to utilize and apply the model of ThaiHealth. At the post-conference workshop, activists from all over the country discussed the importance of a sustainably funded body for health promotion in Bangladesh and sketched out an advocacy plan to move towards the legal establishment of a Bangladeshi Health Promotion Foundation. The conference also reached thousands of members of the public, who viewed the conference sessions via Facebook. Visit Facebook for a recorded video of the conference.