Partnerships for better health and well-being of the young and future generations

On December 7-8, 2016 representatives of the health, social and education sectors from over 40 European countries, including government officials, experts from international organizations and civil society came together at UNESCO HQs conference premises in Paris for the WHO high-level conference Working together for better health and well-being. The conference aimed at promoting urgent and concerted action for health and well-being and strengthening cooperation between the health, education and social sectors in the WHO European Region for better, more equal health and social outcomes for children and adolescents and their families.

“If we are truly committed to improving the health of our children and future generations we must act together and act now,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe at the Conference opening. “The health sector alone cannot address the full range of policies that shape the conditions in which our children grow and that in turn influence their chances of a healthy and happy life. We now have a unique opportunity to bridge the silos that separate us and ensure that each and every child is not falling through the gaps.”

Ms Soo Hyang Choi, Director for Inclusion, Peace and Sustainable Development of UNESCO, referred in her opening statement to the decades-long collaboration between WHO and UNESCO and highlighted that health promotion in schools is one focus area in a forthcoming memorandum of understanding between the two organizations.

Tigran Yepoyan, UNESCO Regional HIV and Health Education Adviser for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, chaired a session on schools promoting health and well-being. Ms Florence Robine, Director General for School Education, Ministry of National Education, France, and Prof. Benoît Vallet, Director General for Health, Ministry for Social Affairs and Health, France, gave a joint presentation at the session. They explained how the two ministries have been working together to build intersectoral policy on education and health in order to create positive school environments, improve children’s knowledge and empower them to be responsible agents in their own health and the health of others.

Christophe Cornu, Senior Programme Specialist and Team Leader in UNESCO Section of Health and Education spoke at the conference closing session. “This conference is a unique opportunity to boost interagency collaborative work for better health and wellbeing,” said Mr Cornu. He also underscored the importance of working together to make all schools promoting health and wellbeing for all children and adolescents.

Building on the European policy for health and well-being Health 2020 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s Sustainable Development Goals, the conference produced a Declaration that called the Member States, civil society and international organizations to act urgently to address health inequalities and improve the social and economic determinants of health. The Declaration explicitly recognized the role of schools and preschools n promoting health and well-being for all children and adolescents. It acknowledged that inclusive and equitable education is a key determinant of their health and well-being.

“The quality and length of education is important and has effects throughout the life-course, including in determining future employment,”  states the Declaration. “The preschool and school must be safe, non-discriminatory, and non-violent and act as a setting for promoting health and establishing healthy behavior. Schools have an important role in reducing the number of dropouts and providing children and adolescents with access to key services, including sexuality education and health services. Building literacy, including health literacy, interpersonal and social skills is important to the empowerment and resilience of children and communities, particularly given the social, economic, environmental and demographic challenges facing many countries.”

At the request of the Member States, the Conference established an Ad Hoc Regional Platform to provide an on ongoing forum for the exchange of good policy and practice to promote an integrated and coordinated approach to addressing health, education and well-being of children. UNESCO has joint the Platform and contributed to the first compendium of case studies from across the European Region and other parts of the world. Many examples of good policy and practices were taken from UNESCO global and regional publications such as, Education sector responses to homophobic bullying (2012), Out in the open. Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression (2016), Education, support and protection of learners and educators living with HIV or affected by the epidemic (2011), Violence prevention in educational settings. Aguideforeducators(2015) and other.

The Conference was hosted by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of France.

More information about the conference can be found at its website.

The conference papers including the Compendium of good policy and practice are available by the following link.