International society for health systems research

November 19, 2010

The society aims to harness science to accelerate universal health coverage. Credit: Flickr/iwishmynamewasmarsha

It’s curtains for the First Global Symposium on Health Systems Research and we close with a proposal to set up an international society on health systems research (HSR), knowledge and innovation.

The society aims to harness science to accelerate universal health coverage. It will support regional and national efforts to strengthen HSR and catalyse scientists’ contributions towards setting norms, standards and practices in HSR.

You can find out more about the society in an upcoming SciDev.Net news story.

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


All that jazz

November 17, 2010

Miles Davis: Don't play what's there, play what's not there. Credit: Wikicommons/Tom Palumbo

Montreux is known for its world jazz festival every summer and is home to the statue of Freddie Mercury.  So it is but natural that we got treated to a nice music performance at the opening session – violin by Isabella Mayer and guitar by Dagoberto Linhares. That was a neat treat for us.

And a couple of speakers could not resist reminding delegates about Montreux’s music culture. Tim Evans, chair of the symposium steering committee – and currently Dean at Bangladesh Rural Advancement Centre (BRAC) School of Public Health,  Dhaka – reminded us about  jazz musician Miles Davis’ famous quote: “Don’t play what’s there … play what’s not there”.

So what’s there? Biomedical research in all its glory. What’s not there? Health systems research (remember the poor relation?).

Evans says what’s missing in health systems research is scientific rigour, especially few robust conceptual frameworks and methods, to measure and evaluate the research.

He is also one of the rare breeds who acknowledge the confusion caused by international agencies’ jargon.”The way we describe health systems research is very vague,” he said.  Samples: applied, complexity, delivery, diffusion, evaluation, formative, implementation, operations, scale-up, T2 or translation two …

His words about vague words are music to my ears as, by now, I have humbly accepted myself as language challenged when confronted with some phrases in the international development sector.

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


Alarming gaps in universal health coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa

November 16, 2010

So why is health systems research gaining global attention now?

There are alarming gaps in health coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa, says Martin Dahinden. Credit: SADC

Despite progress by a handful of middle-income countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, Thailand and South Korea towards innovative universal health coverage – thanks to a combination of political commitment and financial resources for improving national health systems – the rest of the landscape is bleak, to put it mildly.

“The most alarming gaps in coverage are still reported from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East,” Martin Dahinden, director-general of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, told the opening plenary of the global symposium on health systems research on Tuesday.

Among the 32 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 offer no coverage at all, while others such as Gambia, Kenya, Namibia and Rwanda, are slowly reaching 10 per cent coverage.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, financial resources for health are starting to become available, “but there is reason to doubt the political commitment in some countries,” he says.

Dahinden says the future lies in “integrated, inter-linked approaches, where knowledge is the primary factor defining health systems interventions”.

The key lies in evidence the drive the debate and decision-making towards universal health coverage, he says. To achieve this, science and public health communities have to engage in dialogue and collaboration with politicians, ministers of health and finance, and civil society.

I only hope it does not become a dialogue among the deaf.

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


HSR – a poor cousin?

November 16, 2010

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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