On Wednesday, I helped to conduct a dynamic one-day workshop in Mexico City, which served to strengthen multistakeholder collaboration for healthy living. “This was the best use I could have made of my time today,” said Hilda Davila, Director of International Relations at the Secretariat of Health of Mexico, on concluding the workshop. This helped to make my day!

The event was organized by the World Economic Forum, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Ministry of Health and drew a mix from the public and private sectors, like Coca Cola, Nestlé, Pepsi and Unilever. The aims were to strengthen multistakeholder efforts of Mexico to promote healthy living and prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like heart disease, diabetes and obesity; and to field test a Forum-PAHO Toolkit for Multistakeholder Collaboration for Healthy Living.

Mexico’s Secretary of Health Salomon Chertorivski opened the event, stating that government alone cannot solve the problem of NCDs; an “all of society” response is needed. He noted that, while the workshop was on healthy living, multistakeholder collaboration is needed through the whole range of prevention, early detection, preventive treatment and palliative care. Why? Because millions of Mexicans already have a chronic health problem but still need to lead a healthy lifestyle, e.g. not smoking, being physically active, following a healthy diet and reducing alcohol consumption.

Everyone agreed on the need for government, the private sector and civil society to work together; the challenge is the “how”! The toolkit’s step-by-step approach – understanding, designing, mobilizing, building and training, delivering, monitoring and evaluating, communicating and managing risks – is very helpful. I also believe the toolkit will help to further develop the Pan American Forum for Action on NCDs.

Working group discussions revealed a high level of willingness on the part of the ministry and industry partners to collaborate to secure the future generations in Mexico. However, more needs to be done to build trust, as stereotypes abound all around. This could be achieved in small ways, such as through events that develop relationships between individuals in different sectors.

A neat insight was that public health authorities tend to collect hard health statistics, while industry has more qualitative information on customer attitudes about things like diet and physical activity, and that these approaches could be usefully combined.

Another issue is the need to better align the multiple actors involved, and have the same messages. Here, a neutral, respected convener was felt to be essential. The workshop concluded with an agreement to translate the toolkit into Spanish, and to use this approach to develop a multistakeholder project for healthy living in Mexico by the end of October.

Author: C. James Hospedales, Senior Adviser, NCD Prevention & Control, Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily those of the World Economic Forum.

Image: Man walks in front of a closed food stand while wearing a surgical mask in Mexico. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte