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Interview with the new Association President: Dr Fabio da Silva Gomes

Dr. Fabio da Silva Gomes is a Brazilian national, currently based in Rio de Janeiro. Formerly Association External Affairs Secretary, he is starting his term as Association President on April 1st, 2015. Dr Gomes has been involved with the Association since its origins, and here he tells us more about himself, his current work, and his plans for WPHNA in the next four years.

Dr. Gomes, could you please start by telling us a bit about yourself: where you are from, what you work with at the moment?

I am a Brazilian citizen. I was born, live and work in Rio de Janeiro. I have a BSc in Nutrition from the Rio de Janeiro State University, an MSc in Population Studies and Social Research from the National School of Statistical Sciences, and hold a PhD in Public Health from the Institute of Social Medicine of the Rio de Janeiro State University.

At the moment, as an officer of the Ministry of Health in Brazil, I work at the Food, Nutrition and Cancer Division of the National Cancer Institute of Brazil (INCA), mainly with the following activities: developing strategies to promote healthy eating practices in different settings; mobilising regulatory measures to reduce the demand for unhealthy products; and protecting health, food and nutrition public policies from undue interference of commercial interests.

I have been involved in the formulation, development, monitoring and review of several national policies, plans of actions and systems related to health, food and nutrition in Brazil, such as the National Policy for Health Promotion, the National Food and Nutrition Security System, the National Plan of Strategic Actions for Tacking Non-Communicable Diseases, and the National Strategy for Obesity Prevention.

I have also been advising other countries in the Americas and in Asia on the conception and formulation of food and nutrition public policies. I am a member of the Policy and Prevention Scientific and Technical Advisory Network of the World Obesity Federation, member of the Working Group on Implementation, Monitoring and Accountability for Ending Childhood Obesity of the World Health Organization, and have been supporting coalitions and alliances in the public interest aimed at promoting food and nutrition security, regulating the marketing of food, and avoiding conflicts of interest in public health nutrition worldwide.

fabio_gomes_291_388And why Public Health Nutrition?

My origins tell part of my history with food and nutrition. As are many Brazilians, I’m a mixture mainly of indigenous, African, Portuguese and Spanish people. My father was born in the Amazon, my mother in Rio de Janeiro, four thousand kilometres from each other. I was born in Rio, but I lived almost all my childhood and adolescence in Rio’s neighbour state Espírito Santo, in a city called Vila Velha (Old Village). This is where the simplest and most traditional and tastiest Brazilian fish dish comes from (the Moqueca Capixaba), prepared in an earthenware pot made from mud of a type found only in that place, and produced by local paneleiras (pot makers). Vila Velha made me a lover of the sea, and also a lover of the hillsides that supplied us with fresh tomatoes, herbs and spices for the Moqueca and many other plates, and with a great variety of other fruits and vegetables. I harvested fruits from the trees with my bare hands, we shared all the meals as a family, we knew what we were eating, and who was preparing the food we were about to eat.

My academic contact with public health nutrition started in 1999, when I enrolled in the Nutrition undergraduate course at Rio de Janeiro State University. I immediately fell in love with every single discipline in the course. My deep involvement also made me encourage colleagues not to give up on the course, and to see that it was part of our mission to serve our society. My first field contact with public health nutrition was with the school meal programme of the Rio de Janeiro state government in 2001. This was also my first contact with policy makers, which reinforces my sense of the political dimension of food and nutrition. Moved by this concept and by the questions that emerged from the contrasting settings and complexity of Rio, I started my Masters in Population Studies and Social Research in 2005. This gave me training in methodology and statistics, and also in social sciences and economics. This was when I started to connect social systems, macroeconomic architecture, geostrategy and geopolitics to food and nutrition. In this way my worldview expanded profoundly.

After this training my first work was in 2006, as a national advisor to the United Nations Development Programme, within the Ministry of Health. I travelled all over the country, mapping good practices on health promotion at schools. I met children, parents, executives, and policy makers, and I tasted and reported the bitter and the sweet of their realities.

In October 2006, I started working for the National Cancer Institute of Brazil (INCA) to contribute to its mission on cancer prevention. Since then my main work at the Food, Nutrition and Cancer Division of INCA has been facilitating, encouraging, promoting and protecting healthier choices for the Brazilian people and for the planet we share. I have built my expertise around Nutritional Analysis of Populations and Food and Nutrition Policy Analysis, and have been dedicating my work to linking knowledge, policy and action to promote healthy eating practices in favour of life, social justice, equity and the realisation of universal rights.

Why WPHNA?

In WPHNA I found principles and aims that converge with the ones I value most, and which move concrete actions intervening structurally. This includes encouraging policy makers and decision takers, at all levels from global to local, to promote equitable and sustainable access to adequate, enjoyable, appropriate and nourishing food. What is essential for population health and well-being, and also for social, cultural and economic integrity, and to conserve the living and physical world.

What has your contribution has been in the past years as a member of Council and Executive Committee of WPHNA?

As WPHNA External Relations Secretary, I have been a member of the Executive Committee (EC), our governing body, and as such a Trustee. Formerly as a Council member I was Membership Secretary. I took care of WPHNA relations with other bodies, as appropriate with reference to the EC. For instance, last May I was responsible for the WPHNA response to the draft Rome Declaration of the 2014 UN International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and also, with colleagues, represented the WPHNA during the Conference. I played a leading role in WPHNA’s Rio 2012 conference as a member of its Organising Committee, and I have been exploring hosts for the next WPHNA conference in 2016.

What is your vision for the work of WPHNA in the upcoming years?

I see our Association becoming and remaining the leading global voice for public health nutrition.

This vision implies various missions. These include rapidly increasing the WPHNA membership base and making its finances secure; sustaining teams and teamwork in all our areas of work; consolidating alliances with like-minded organisations; greatly increasing our strength in the global South; and, in general, making WPHNA known throughout the world.

As well as an inspiring vision and strategic missions, like all organisations WPHNA needs a programme of work, building on what has been achieved. In the next four years these should include the following. With colleagues I have drafted initial proposals for all the initiatives listed below. Direct leadership will come from Executive Committee members, who will be entrusted as convenors and team leaders.

  • Funding to be secured from non-conflicted sources.
  • An increased membership, including senior and young scientists, researchers, policy-makers and decision-takers.
  • Much stronger engagement with and involvement of WPHNA members.
  • The WPHNA 2016 conference to be as great a success in all ways as Rio2012.
  • Alliances to be created and strengthened with like-minded organizations.
  • Representation of WPHNA at relevant multilateral meetings.

What message you would like to send to association members?

I feel very grateful and honoured that the members have entrusted me the mission to continue the mandate of Professor Barrie Margetts, who led the Association since its foundation to achieve great recognition, distinction and respect worldwide. As President, my return to your reliance will be the dedication to support the Association in conquering more spaces in the hearts of all those who advocate for public health nutrition, more seats in the policy-making and decision-taking arena, and more hope in the eyes of those who want to see the world transformed by how we relate to food, whether producing, preparing, eating or celebrating. For that, I also count on you to fulfill this endeavour collectively.

You can access Fabio Gomes’ application for President here.

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