HSR – a poor cousin?

HSR not a poor relation of biomedical research, says WHO's Marie-Paul Kieny

The first global symposium on health systems research kicked off with a strong message that health systems research (HSR) should no longer be treated as the poor cousins of biomedical research.

“Biomedical research has had impressive successes in part because  – to be blunt – it has attracted significant financial investment. Unfortunately this has not been the case for health systems research, which has been the poor relation,” said Marie Paul Kieny, assistant director-general for innovation, information, evidence and research at the WHO, at the opening plenary session.

Kieny reminded delegates of the urgent need to focus research efforts on scaling up the delivery of health services in a way that is equitable and accessible. HSR should generate new knowledge that can help governments strengthen their health systems and improve health outcomes of their people.

That something is not ticking on the health front has finally sunk in. Despite impressive vertical efforts against priority diseases, the “health systems” that deliver and sustain life-saving interventions are “ailing and weak”, pointed out Judith Rodin, president of Rockefeller Foundation. Which is why a baby might be saved from HIV, but end up dying from diarrhoea, she observed.

Rodin prescribes three levels of action. Provide technical and financial support to countries to re-organise their health systems. Second, build  a case that health sector reform towards universal coverage is a sound investment and should be a piroity target for foreign aid in the next decade. Third, more information on the mechanisms to link UHC with global poverty reduction programmes.

Rodin says there is a window of opportunity to turn things around. Which is what this symposium hopes to usher in.

T. V. Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

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