In a remote village in India’s northern state of Bihar, 20-year-old Lal Munni (name changed) is terrified that she will soon lose her diarrhoea-stricken baby – her third to go that way in as many years. She is delighted to find a health worker visiting her village, which still has no access to a primary health centre. But the health worker’s sole brief is to give oral polio drops under a massive national polio eradication campaign, and she has no diarrhoea remedies. Even assuming the baby somehow survived the diarrhoea, the polio vaccine would have been lost in the frequent stools.
Lal Munni’s plight is seen in many developing countries — that frustrating disconnect between policymaking and the ground realties of sound health services.
Just 0.02 per cent of health spending in low- and middle-income countries goes into health systems research. This prompted the WHO to convene a task force in 2008 on scaling up research and learning for health systems.
Now, the WHO and other partners will hold the first global symposium on health systems research, in Montreux, Switzerland, this week to address this issue.
The symposium will focus on science to accelerate universal health coverage, and seeks to improve the scientific evidence needed by health policymakers and practitioners to implement this. As the WHO’s Tim Evans observes, health systems approach is the third pole of any health research alongside biomedical and clinical research.
It comes amidst concerns that some organizations are turning health systems research into rhetoric and not reality, and the resignation of the global forum’s controversial director Anthony Mbewu. So will it just be rhetoric or will something meaningful emerge? Watch this space for posts next week.
T. V. Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net