The Unit was established as an independent department of the Ministry of Health and the Environment under the 1984/85 Estimates. It was set up as a vertical programme, but does not function as such. It has close linkages with other departments in Health, other government ministries, non-governmental organisations and the private sector.

In 2003, the nomenclature was changed from the Health Education Unit to the Health Promotion Unit. The following factors justify the need for change.

Previously, the unit focused on education, which targeted  behavioural change of individuals. A number of factors work together to either contribute or work against people being healthy. These include the social and economic environment, the physical environment and a person's individual characteristics and behaviours. Health Promotion is a broad based comprehensive approach, which focuses on the broader social environmental and economic determinants of health. Health Education is only one component of health promotion and education by itself cannot create a healthy population.

Other components of health promotion include capacity building, intersectoral coordination, policy analysis and development, community development, research and evaluation, and advocacy. Health Promotion is an effective strategy for improving quality of life. Therefore, without the change in approach, the unit will not be able to undertake a leadership role in developing and advancing health promotion, which is  critical to the reorientation of the health services and sustainable environmental, social and economic sectors of the country.