UN DPI/NGO Conference in Australia to attract unprecedented number of workshops

27 Aug 2010

(Melbourne, Australia) - As planning for the United Nations Sixty-Third DPI/NGO Conference continues apace, registration numbers are presently higher than in previous years and attention is now focused on the programme for this flagship United Nations-non-governmental organization event, which, this time, has set for itself the twin goal of galvanizing support for improving global health and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The Conference, which takes places in Melbourne, Australia, from 30 August to 1 September, under the official banner “Advance Global Health:  Achieve the MDGs”, marks the first time in the three years since the event has taken place away from United Nations Headquarters, that it is being held in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australian Convener of the NGO Focal Group of the Sixty-Third Annual Conference, Philip Batterham, says of the host city:  “Modern Melbourne is a home for people of all nations, one of the happiest multicultural cities in the world — a city that generously gives to NGOs working in the developing world.  Melbourne is a centre of learning, with a global reputation for health research, so Melbourne is engaged with this Conference – heart and mind.”

The Conference is being held at the state-of-the-art Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, situated beside the South Wharf on the Yarra River.  It kicks off with an opening ceremony, which will showcase the multicultural metropolis with an indigenous welcome to Australia.  This will be followed by welcoming remarks from senior representatives of the United Nations and the Australian Government. Among those slated to deliver the keynote addresses are Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and a driving force behind promoting universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.  In the course of the Conference, non-governmental organizations are anticipating solid recommendations towards meeting Millennium Development Goal 6, which addresses the issue of combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, from Mr Sidibé, who brings 27 years of experience in international public health, development, and AIDS, to his new post.

A number of activities, including a church service at the main cathedral in Melbourne and a cultural extravaganza, have been organized both within the Conference site and off-site to mark the event, the first United Nations Conference of this size to be held in Australia.   Melbourne, as host city, will showcase many of the country’s premier medical, neuroscience and biotechnology research institutions — in the effort to stimulate Governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses, researchers and the general public to better contribute to fostering global health and meeting the internationally agreed development Goals. Helping to define the Conference as a dynamic and interactive milestone in that endeavour will be four round tables focusing on four major themes:  “The Role of the NGOs and Civil Society in Helping Achieve the MDGs”; “Equity, Rights and Progress towards the MDGs”; “Strengthening an Integrated and Systems Approach to Achieving the Health MDGs”; and “Achieving the MDGs in Our Changing World”.  A Committee of experts comprised of members of the non-governmental organization community, in both Australia and New York, assisted in the selection of the round-table speakers.

Indeed, the round tables have attracted a diverse group of panellists, including Dr Sakena Yacoobi, Founder and Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), an Afghan women-led non-governmental organization that has established itself as a visionary association working at the grass-roots level to empower women and communities to bring education and health services to poor rural and urban girls and women, as well as to other disenfranchised Afghans.

Other notable speakers will include Samina Naz, a native of Punjab, Pakistan, whose family of physicians actively engaged in social service influenced her choice to become involved in civil society advocacy.  Ms Naz is currently Health Coordinator of Godh (meaning “mother’s lap”), a non-governmental organization based in Lahore, Pakistan, where she is directly in charge of the maternal and child health programmes for marginalized communities, affecting mainly the Gypsies and Pakistani Nomads.

As the Conference is in the Asia-Pacific region, it has attracted several local participants, among them, Dr Shichuo Li, President of the China Association Against Epilepsy (CAAE), who is dedicated to the research of neurological diseases.  The host country is also very well represented.  Among other key speakers in the round tables is former Special Adviser to the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tim Costello, who currently heads World Vision Australia.  Considered the voice of social conscience for Australians, Mr Costello has led national debates on such issues as gambling, urban poverty, homelessness, reconciliation, and substance abuse.

Another major highlight of this year’s Conference is the unprecedented number of 54 workshops — peer-to-peer discussions among the non-governmental organizations — on various global health topics.  “This year the planning committee is delighted to have adequate time and space to invite maximum participation of NGOs from throughout the world in the Conference,” says Mary Norton, Chair of the Conferenceand Co-Chair of the Planning Committee.  “Because the topics of global health and Millennium Development Goals are multidimensional, we have increased the time frame for workshops from once a day to twice a day, allowing for 20 workshops a day.  More NGOs will have time to present their views and stimulate rich dialogue on fostering global health.”

Co-chair of the Workshop Sub-Committee — comprised of NGOs in both the host country and New York — which selected this year’s workshops, Elisabeth Shuman, says the broad range of workshops is a unique opportunity to hear the voice of regional non-governmental organizations on a global problem.  “Many of the co-sponsors of workshops are NGOs from Australia and the Pacific Region who are newly affiliated and have never before participated in a DPI/NGO Conference.  These include NGOs and speakers from the host country, as well as from Fiji, Papua-New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu and Timor-Leste, who will give us insights into universal health issues, as well as local challenges specific to their area,” says Ms Shuman.

Included in the line-up of workshop speakers and topics is Carlitos Corriea Freitas, Head of Health Promotion and Education Department in Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Health, who will lead a panel discussion on the topic “Coming into Its Own:  Hygiene Promotion for Health and Development”. In addition to speakers from Australia and the Pacific region, Ms Shuman notes, “We also have many contributors from Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas”.  Among them are Carol Nawina Nyirenda from Lusaka, Zambia, who has lived with HIV for many years, survived tuberculosis and is currently an international treatment activist for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.  She will moderate a workshop entitled “Slipping through the Cracks:  Women and Infectious Diseases”.

The Conference will also feature some 50 exhibits and 10 topic-specific displays by non-governmental organizations promoting ways and means of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  One of the displays will be an “ MDG Youth Village”, an interactive exhibit created by members of the Youth Sub-Committee of the Sixty-Third Annual Conference Planning Committee.  Students from universities in New York and Australia have produced multicultural and multimedia designs to capture the essence of the Goals in this exhibit. The Conference is due to conclude on Wednesday, 1 September, with a Declaration and statements by keynote speakers, such as Mick Gooda, Board Member of the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health Queensland and the Australian representative on the International Indigenous Council, which focuses on healing and addictions.  Mr Gooda is a descendent of the Gangulu people of central Queensland.  He is expected to contribute his extensive knowledge of the diversity of the circumstances and cultural nuances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout Australia.

Another important speaker at the closing meeting will be Sir George Alleyne of Barbados, former Director of the Pan American Health Organization, the regional office of the World Health Organization.  Sir George, who was knighted in 1990 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his service to medicine, is Chancellor of the University of the West Indies and currently serves as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region.  He is expected to focus on non-communicable diseases, which, to date, have not received as much attention, but are critical to attaining the health-related Goals.

Contact Information

Ms Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, UN DPI/NGO, Melbourne Convention Centre, Australia, tel:  0420411826; email:  sainte@un.org ;
Additional information is also available at www.undpingoconference.org