Reflections on a Call for Action

November 20, 2008

An active discussionSo after long hours of discussions and negotiations, the Bamako Call to Action has been agreed upon and officially announced to the world.

Spending three days attending various sessions on research for health as well as sitting in on the ministerial discussions left me with three distinct impressions.

First: Awareness needs to be hammered into the heads of political leaders that health is an investment, not an expense. And that no health means no development.

A fairly common sense understanding I would have thought, but perhaps one that needs to be waved vigorously, and continuously, in front of the eyes of our leaders. And maybe shoved down their throats as well, considering how similar the Bamako Call to Action is to other such previous documents.

Second: International bodies that have similar objectives need to be consolidated so that their efforts can be coordinated and programmes carried out more efficiently and without duplication.

Similarly, governments need to set national health agendas, and these really need to be carried out across several ministries and governmental departments in order to be fully effective.

Of course, I fully realise this is easier said than done. Consolidating international organisations is not impossible, but highly improbable; while getting several different governmental bodies to work together coherently and efficiently without mini turf wars erupting or plain miscommunication is as difficult as getting a stubborn donkey to move when it doesn’t want to. Not that I’m comparing government agencies to stubborn donkeys – honestly!

Third: Southern countries want to become more self-reliant in terms of conducting research. Many representatives from developing nations called for national or regional capacity building, rather than relying on the North to help provide training.

However, with the money still coming from developed nations, it is going to be quite a tricky balance satisfying everybody’s wants and needs, as well as avoiding any potential chips-on-the-shoulders, even if both sides have the very best of intentions.

At the end of the day, I believe it all boils down to individuals. If each person who attended the Forum goes away firmly believing and committed to carrying out whichever part of the Call to Action that is the most relevant to them, we might indeed see some progress in global health.

It may not be immediate, but as was said during the meeting, health is both a current and future investment.

We just need to remember the big picture, but work on our small part of it. And maybe pray for visionary leaders who think in the long term, rather than the short.

Shiow Chin Tan, SciDev.Net

Looking for concrete results

November 18, 2008

Grumblings around the conference are indicating that not all the delegates are convinced the Bamako Call to Action will result in real-world deeds. One delegate at a session on health system strengthening said yesterday that we could simply photocopy the various communiques from previous meetings, such as the Mexico Ministerial Summit on Health Research, and change the dates. “We’re not saying anything new – what is the progress we’ve made?” he questioned.

But while progress may not be revolutionary, others feel the health research community has come a long way since Mexico. The focus on research for health in this forum, rather than health research, has been highlighted by many speakers as a move towards a more inclusive research community, and one which can consider the determinants and effects of both poor and good health, rather than simply focusing on biomedical research.

And sometimes meetings such as these can have immediate effects at a country level. Aissatou Touré from the Institute Pasteur Dakar in Senegal told the same session that after the Algiers meeting, a decision was made to create a commission for research in the country’s health ministry, incorporating all the different actors involved in research for health to define the national research agenda for years to come. Let’s hope actions like these are not unusual, and the Bamako meeting will have many such legacies.

Katherine Nightingale, SciDev.Net

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