Report on WHO activities and Health Net

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Pierre L.-J. Ritchie (Secretary-General), Juan José Sanchez Sosa (HealthNet Coordinator)

This is a combined report on the current IUPsyS relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the IUPsyS network known as HealthNet. The Secretary-General (Ritchie) and member of the Executive Committee (Sanchez Sosa) are collaborating on these functionally linked endeavours. The IUPsyS Treasurer (Sabourin) provided special assistance with WHO. Philip D. Jaffé (Université de Genève) has provided timely local support.

Previous progress was reported to the 1998 Assembly. As described in greater detail in the previous Report, the IUPsyS relationship with WHO proceeded variably across the years as has HealthNet. Both benefited from the leadership of two former presidents, Wayne Holtzman and Kurt Pawlik, while the latter was primarily developed by former Executive Committee member, Terrence Hogan with the assistance of his colleague, Robert Martin. The 1996-98 biennium was characterized by transition as well as by a process of renewal and revitalization. The 1999-2000 biennium built on these foundations and is characterized by a higher level of focused activities.

In reviewing future prospects from the perspective of the Union’s mission and current priorities, it made sense to foster a strong collaborative link between Health Net and potential cooperation with WHO. Hence, when the Secretary-General was designated as the Union’s primary liaison with WHO and Sanchez Sosa was designated as the new coordinator for Health Net, it was hoped that active communication and where feasible mutual support would be provided to both components. As the current quadrennium concludes, it can be confirmed that this has been achieved. In addition, the renewal of HealthNet has been clearly valuable to the WHO relationship.

In the previous biennium, it was already anticipated that WHO would embark on period of transition and change with the arrival of a new Director General in July, 1998. IUPsyS began to lay the groundwork for a more formal relationship with WHO. Professor Robert Martin, who has a history of active work in association with WHO programmes, was named special IUPsyS liaison with WHO in late 1996 to enable him to explore possibilities in 1997 when he was in Geneva for an extended time. This proved to be a very constructive exchange which included communication among the IUPsyS President (d’Ydewalle), immediate Past-President (Pawlik) and the Secretary-General (Ritchie). The latter presented a proposal for a formal Work Plan between the Union and WHO to the 1997 Executive Committee meeting which approved it. It was subsequently approved by WHO following clarification.

Beginning in 1998, the Secretary-General has met periodically with WHO officials. On some occasions, Sabourin and Jaffé have also participated. There was clear support within WHO to develop closer ties with psychology, particularly within a health psychology/behavioural science framework. When a Union Officer is involved, these meetings typically occur at a time when one or more of the Officers is already near-by to maximize the cost-effectiveness of such activities.

Work has progressed well on moving to the establishment of formal relations with WHO. However, the Union’s primary WHO designated liaison person (Dr. Rex Billington) retried in December, 1999. As part of his legacy, he left a strongly positive impression about the seriousness of the Union’s commitment to furthering effective, practical partnerships with the WHO system. In particular, he cited the periodic attendance at WHO headquarters of IUPsyS Officers. This included two meetings with the then new Director for Social Change and Mental Health. In addition, the Union’s success in securing external funding from ISSC/UNESCO and the Canadian Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology (through its proposal for utilization of a portion of the XXVI Congress surplus allocated to the Canadian psychological community) and the substantive progress on the project itself were cited as further evidence to move toward official relations.

The retirement of the previous principal WHO liaison was followed very quickly by the second major re-organization of WHO’s Geneva headquarters. Whatever its merits may prove to be in the middle-long term, in the short term it generated considerable disruption and uncertainty. It took several months for new liaisons to be designated both for the general IUPsyS-WHO relationship as well as for the specific projects. However, in the context of the Secretary-General and Treasurer’s meetings with IUPsyS officials in April, 2000 activities are now back on track. The new principal liaison is Shekar Saxeena. As detailed below, the current projects are moving to fruition and preliminary plans for new projects have been developed. Similarly, it is expected that the process of establishing official relations will be completed by late 2000 - early 2001.

To facilitate maintenance of ongoing contact with WHO and related agencies, Professor Philippe Jaffe of the University of Geneva, has provided assistance as the Union’s Geneva-based representative. This enabled the Union to attend such meetings as that of the WHO Committee on NGO’s associated with Mental Health and of the Global Forum on Health Research.

A major focus of the current Work Plan is the generation of Behavioural Science Learning Modules. A Work Group was established with Professor Martin as Chair. He has been steadfast in his contribution to the projects and the furtherance of the relationship with WHO. Funding for the projects was described above. A separate report on the Behavioural Science Learning Modules, which involves colleagues in numerous countries, prepared for ISSC/UNESCO, is submitted separately. At present, the Immunization Module may be in final published form for the Stockholm meetings and Invited Symposium while the Pre-Natal will be available as a pre-print. The new liaison for the Pre-Natal project, Meena Cabral del Mello, has been especially helpful in bringing the project to completion. Project leaders Jack Carr (Immunization) with the help of WHO project liaison John Clements, and James Campbell (Pre-Natal) have shown great dedication and perseverance.

WHO has expressed interest in further collaboration on new Modules; possibilities are in the areas of pain, reproductive health, families and other persons providing natural support to victims of AIDS as well as on women and depression. In addition, WHO has expressed interest in a policy paper on psychology as health service profession for use with national Ministries of Health and potential collaboration on psychology’s role in health service delivery systems.

The renewal of Health Net is also of considerable interest to WHO. In Mexico, Sanchez Sosa has sustained initiatives began in 1998. These activities aimed at gathering institutional and financial support for Health Net. As noted in our 1998 Report, the response was very favourable and this has been sustained in 1999-2000.

In Mexico, Sanchez Sosa initiated actions aimed at gathering institutional and financial support for HealthNet. The response has been very favorable; two agencies offered, and in fact now provide help in specific ways. One is Mexico’s National University (UNAM) and the other, Mexico’s National Council for Science and Technology (CoNaCyT).

The HealthNet continued its renewal and expansion. Established in the previous two quadrennia, it grew to more than 100 psychologists in 25 countries. It is a network of psychologists working as clinicians and scientists on a wide range of health problems. They develop and implement illness prevention and health promotion programs as well as specific interventions aimed at restoring health.

The HealthNet web site became fully operational in 1999 thanks to help from the General Directorate for Academic Computing of UNAM which provided technical and human resources to help develop and install the page. Also, a new joint program between CoNaCyT and several main universities funded a nationwide project to assess and develop interventions for several adolescence-related problems. A portion of the project's overhead funds helped support the Net. Colleagues are invited to visit the HealthNet web page at: http://www.unam.mx/healthnet and to contribute with information to both the page and the Newsletter.

HealthNet is supporting the update of several international directories of researchers and academicians actively involved in either training health professionals or implementing health research programs. The priority of this project is to specifically search for experts interested in the link between human behavior and the loss or recovery of health, including risk analysis, health promotion and preventive interventions. This project is also receiving partial funding from CoNaCyT and UNAM research grants awarded to two projects: one on critical-care unit patient recovery, and another on health and quality of life in the elderly. Additional indirect support on other aspects of the project has been provided by the Texas-WHO Center for Collaborative Research under the directorship of Professor Wayne Holtzman from the University of Texas in Austin. The Centers’ annual meetings have become occasions for highly stimulating exchanges aimed at promoting international joint research projects on health. Likewise, indirect support through the promotion of multinational research projects on healthy drinking was provided by the International Center of Alcohol Policies, a worldwide public-health/industry think tank based in Washington, D.C..

As a follow up to the activities begun in 1998, HealthNet continued establishing systematic contacts with a series of organizations, government officials and academicians in order to pursue the following objectives: 1. Renew the introduction to HealthNet and update the information on the activities programmed for 1999-2000, 2. Invite researchers, universities and organizations officials to identify and promote contacts with the most significant and productive psychologists working in any of the intersections of health and human behavior; 3. Contribute information to the HealthNet web page and to the HealthNet Newsletter on recent research findings, scientific and professional meetings, scholarship opportunities in Health Psychology, and other related issues.

Two important considerations concerning the Health Net growth perspectives relate to the way HealthNet contents are determined and how information is disseminated. In addition to updating IUPsyS members on previous activities, the present report also seeks to, again, serve as a call for proposals on these two issues. This consultation is expected to serve as a key source for future efforts to revitalize Health Net.

HealthNet welcomed new colleagues who accepted to serve as National Liaison Representatives (NLRs) and expressed strong support of the project's aims. They responded to our invitation issued through the web page and distributed through airmail to all national representatives to the IUPsyS Assembly in early 1999. Most colleagues accepting such invitation are either health or clinical psychologists interested in increasing the international awareness on the potential of Health Psychology's contribution to solving or ameliorating numerous health problems worldwide. Among the newest additions are those from Argentina (Mario Molina); India (Tanmay Bhattacharya of India's Institute of Technology); Portugal (Carlos Lopes-Pires); and Spain (Pablo Arturi Prieto). The first tasks of our new HealthNet colleagues have included promoting the progress of Health Psychology in their countries, promoting international joint initiatives and contributing updates to the HealthNet web page and its printed version, the HealthNet Newsletter.

The main responsibilities of NLRs include collecting information in their respective countries or regions, concerning new developments on the health-behavior two-way interface. Such developments usually involve research findings, effective psychological interventions to promote or restore health, local or national healthcare-relevant legislation changes and, news on forthcoming scientific or professional meetings. Once the NLRs send this information to the Net’s office, it gets processed for publication in the Net’s outlets.

Concerning dissemination, we previously recommended that both conventional (newsletter) and electronic media (web page) remain in effect due to the fact that there is great diversity in terms of geographical distribution and resource capabilities of both the Union's National Members and those of individual psychologists. Although slowed down by a strike in Mexico’s National University during late 1999 and early 2000, the October-December, 1999 and January-March, 2000 issues of the newsletter were finally distributed. By the time the Union holds its General Assembly meeting in July, the April-June issue should have also been disseminated.

HealthNet was fortunate to benefit from the support of the American Psychological Association which granted permission to summarize and paraphrase some entries of its PsycINFO system in order to feed the "International Health News" section of the Newsletter and Web page. This section contains news on recent developments on research, application, program evaluation and legislative trends affecting the general area of health and psychology, all with a strong international flavor. We expect PsycINFO to remain one of its sources.

In 1999, letters were again distributed worldwide to a blend of IUPsyS national representatives and other directory-derived sources. Thus, 148 presidents/rectors of as many universities in Latin America were expressly invited to help promote HealthNet as both an international academic program and in terms of options related to scientific and professional meetings, joint projects and like activities. HealthNet is supporting the Latin American Academy of Science's initiative to hold a meeting of directors of university-based health programs.

The results of this collaboration are already emerging. IUPsyS, through its central secretariat and its HealthNet coordinator at UNAM in Mexico City benefited from the assistance of the Union of Latin American Universities (UDUAL) to promote major initiatives in Latin American countries during 1999, and continued through the year 2000. UDUAL's General Assembly approved the foundation of the network University Programs of Health Research in Latin America ("PUISAL" for its initials in Spanish).

The XXVII International Congress of Psychology will be a major focal point in 2000. Ritchie has chosen to use the symposium he was invited to organize to highlight a portion of the collaboration with WHO. The symposium will be on ‘Knowledge Transfer in Health Psychology: The Psychological Contribution to the World Health Organization's Behavioural Science Learning Modules’. Similarly, Sanchez Sosa will use his invited symposium to address two aspects of Health Psychology pertinent to the revitalization of HealthNet: (i) the scientific bases for the design, implementation and evaluation of cognitive and behavioural interventions for maintaining or restoring health; (ii) the most recent advances on preventive interventions at the community level.

Overall, we are very pleased with the progress of the past two years. Notwithstanding some delays, collaboration with WHO continues to evolve well; similarly, again despite external factors beyond the Union’s control, HealthNet has again become fully operational. In the final year of the current biennium as well as in beginning a new IUPsyS quadrennium, the goal will be to consolidate and build on the work initiated in the 1996-2000 quadrennium.