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UN DPI Annual Conference in Australia

Melbourne, Australia - From August 30 to September 1, more than 1,600 delegates from over 70 nations, representing 350 non-governmental organizations, met in Melbourne, Australia for the 63rd Annual UN Department of Public Information/NGO Conference. The theme of this year’s conference was "Advance Global Health, Achieve the Millennium Development Goals." This is the third Annual DPI/NGO conference to be held outside New York. The location gave many NGOs in the Pacific region the opportunity to participate and network.

 UPF was represented at the Conference by Greg Stone, Secretary General of UPF-Oceania; Steve Evans, Chair of UPF-Victoria, Australia; and Rick McInerheney, State Director in Victoria.

Dr. Mary Norton, the chair of the conference, outlined her desire for a broad and holistic approach to health in the Vision Statement, stating “This Conference should emphasize the multidisciplinary, multifaceted issues in fostering health, not just managing disease"—a sentiment Princess Muna al-Hussein of Jordan, honorary advisor to the World Health Organization Collaborating Centres for Nursing Development, commended in her address during the closing ceremony via video message.

Throughout the conference this diverse approach was evident, the goal being to achieve a sense of well-being for all. As it has been pointed out by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon and the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan: “Health is the tie that binds all of the Millennium Development Goals together. If we fail to meet our target on health, we will never overcome poverty, illiteracy, achieve universal education and meet the other MDG challenges.”

Fifty-five workshops were held over the three days covering a wide range of topics, and 57 NGOs had exhibits presenting a good opportunity for NGOs to network, facilitating future partnering. The program also included four round-table sessions:

1. The Role of the NGOs and Civil Society in Helping Achieve the MDGs

2. Equity, Rights and Progress towards the MDGs

3. Strengthening an Integrated and Systems Approach to Achieving the Health MDGs

4. Achieving the MDGs in Our Changing World.

Delegates had the opportunity to put questions to the panel of speakers at the end of each session.

During the conference delegates had the opportunity to comment on and contribute to the development of a Declaration to be presented at the UN MDG Summit September 20-22, 2010 in New York. During the closing session the delegates voted overwhelmingly in agreement with the final Declaration read out by the Conference Chair, Dr. Mary Norton. Mr Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia, then put an unexpected proposal to the conference. “The world seems to have a compassion blind spot with regard to the flood situation in Pakistan,” he said. “For every $1 that Pakistan spends on public health they spend $3 on their national debt repayment.” He proposed that a moratorium be placed on Pakistan’s debt repayment for the next two years while they recover from the natural disaster they are dealing with at present. The proposal received unanimous support; the room erupted into spontaneous applause and a standing ovation.

In the closing ceremony, former Australian Youth Ambassador to the UN, Christopher Varney, spoke passionately, reminding us how close we are to 2015. “We are not here for an end (of the conference) but this is a beginning. We have five years before 2015…. From the commencement of this conference three days ago, 75,000 children have died a preventable death…. We stand at a crossroads.”

Mr. Jeffery Huffines, Chair of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee, thanked the indigenous leaders of Australia for blessing the event by reminding everyone that “it is on. a spiritual foundation that our work, on behalf of suffering humanity, will bear the most enduring fruit."

Before closing, Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, and Dr. Norton thanked participants and organizers and announced the location for next year’s conference. The theme next year will be Sustainable Societies, and the conference will be held in Bonn, Germany.

A very brief overview of some of the 55 workshops held:

Health assessment of the indigenous Australian aboriginals and their continual striving to deal with the influence of western societies (for example, fast food, alcohol, and drugs) as well as how to relate to aboriginals in a respectful and positive manner. The issue of the Australian governmental “throwing money at the problems" was addressed. The presenters also paralleled the black experience in America with the aboriginals' situation in Australia.

The concerns about AIDS in Africa and the well-researched evidence that the Jewish bris (circumcision) drops the contraction rates by a substantial amount and should be initiated as an adjunct to existing interventions was an eye opener.

Additionally, in the same session, specialists in trauma and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from Israel shared very interesting and incisive research on how to help children deal with the great confusion and the pain of loss due to war, terrorism, and natural disasters.

A very successful school was chronicled as using sports to unite youth overcoming racial prejudices and cultural conflicts.

The work of the UN in the South Pacific Islands focuses on the issues abuse which particularly affect women and children.

In India, a "school of spirituality" has proven successful in educating students from many disciplines; they attend for several weeks annually to develop their spiritual understanding and learn about wholesome life choices.

The sincerity of the presenters, who personally work in the field, made this event well worth attending. This gathering and the networking was an excellent opportunity to find like minded individuals and organizations to further our communications and cross-pollination.

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