Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net
Work progresses at the Boosting research for health in the new Arab world meeting in Bellagio, north Italy. Today, discussion shifted from general topics to more practical issues.
Working groups gathered to think on country-specific needs for health research system strengthening, focusing on three main aspects: regional strategy and plan of action, engaging partners and building networks, funding perspectives.
The fund-raising problem is of course a crucial one, so a large part of the broader discussion that followed was devoted to explore possible avenues to get potential donors and financing bodies involved. Since the all initiative of strengthening health research in the Arab world is brand new, and the group of people that is coordinating the effort met here for the first time, one should not be surprised to know that only vaguely shaped plans were brought to the table so far. However, good, solid common ground was found to build on by selecting shared pointers for future action.
First, delegates agreed on the need for coming out with a ‘Big Idea’ about boosting health research as a driver of improvement of public health, advancement of fairness of health and equity, and socio-economic development in the region.
This should be something that captures imagination of donors and funding bodies, while being amenable to be efficiently communicated and appealing to politicians and the lay public as well.
“Something exciting is needed, but I still don’t see it here. This is necessary not only, or primarily, to allure donors, but to have a sharp vision of the common goal to achieve,” said Ibrahim Daibes, from the Canada-based aid agency International Development Research Centre, confirming that work has to be done in this direction.
Another consultation, opened to a larger panel of researchers, policymakers and stakeholders, will be held in a 6-months time frame to develop the ‘Big Idea’ concept further.
It was also noted that for the change to become structural and to impact substantially on health and related societal issues, donors will not be enough, but rather national governments need to be convinced to allocate appropriate resources to R&D in the health sector in their budget over a long period of time.
This – in a region where health and R&D expenditure is (with a few exceptions) relatively low (but that, on the other side, boasts the highest ratio of military expenditures as a percentage of GDP in the world) – is not going to be easy, as those around the table here in Bellagio are well aware.
Certainly, a carefully planned communication strategy will be key to the project, both to persuade international funding agencies to take the risk of investing in research in countries in conflict and transition and to raise advocacy at the national and regional level. “We have to speak clear, so to be sure that people don’t think we are asking for money just to fund our own research or academic institutions,” said Hoda Rashad, from the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
This blog post is part of our coverage of Boosting Research for Health in the New Arab World meeting which takes place 26 February – 1 March 2013, in Bellagio, Italy. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.