This blog is part of a series of blogs written by participants at HSR 2022 reflecting on some of the key messages and learnings emerging from the symposium.
Recently, I had the privilege of attending the 7th Global Symposium on Health Systems Research and presenting some of our work in Nepal. It was a great networking opportunity with healthcare policy makers and researchers, as well as social justice advocates from all over the globe who are passionate about systems research to improve healthcare. This large-scale event even included many EDPs and UN agencies. Many thanks to the organizers and especially to Nick Simons Institute (NSI) for this experience and for connecting us with global colleagues! It has been a goal of ours to attend the #HSR2022 in Colombia, a global larger event on health research, and it was especially exciting as it was our first international trip post COVID-19.
There were ample plenary sessions, relevant breakout discussions, and side events such as thematic groups and region focused activities. We attended sessions related to the South Asia region, community participation, primary healthcare, SDOH including commercial determinants, and social justice and equity. The marketplace had a range of exhibitors, and provided information as well as small gifts and refreshments. During HSR 2022, I shared ideas, presenting our slides and posters related to MWH and surgery in Nepal. I connected with international delegates from countries including Pakistan, Dem. Rep of Congo, Colombia, Germany, Sweden, Vietnam, and the USA. I was also proud to see other Nepalese researchers and professionals present/share their work.
The Agora convention center is a huge, multiple story conference center with sizable rooms, clean facilities, escalators and exit stairs, and competent but friendly security teams. Across the street are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, many hotels and shops including a money exchanger (no passport is required while exchanging a limited amount of USD). While the staff were friendly, language presented a key barrier as most spoke only Spanish. In our short time, we were able to pick up a few common words to assist, such agua, banos, gracias, grande, cuanta, para, salud and basic counting (uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco etc).
Additionally, the taxis are not too tourist friendly, perhaps also a result of the linguistic issues. While there was an abundance of taxis on the road, it was difficult to get one when needed. We did note many online e-bike/e-car companies, as well as young men using motorized bicycles for food delivery. Interestingly, we saw many cars and bikes manufactured in India. We were told the public transport was not safe, thus opted for one of multiple travel company, such as TransMelenio. A private driver working with tourists seemed helpful initially, but unfortunately, he ripped us off a bit, then we gave up using him.
Roads were wide, clean, with all sign posts and crossings, and there were numerous green public parks which are good for both environment and public health. At times, I did notice police chasing after criminals and citizens disobeying rules. The consumption of alcohol and smoking seems to be higher in general. I observed some issues of beggars’ and homelessness. The Colombian currency is weaker than USD but nearly 38 times stronger than NPR. Overall, the people were friendly however, we did notice that Colombia has its own set of issues as with every nation.
We stayed at Wyndham Bogota, a centrally located chain hotel with large rooms and necessary facilities. It was near the Agora Convention Center, the hospital, and major government agencies such as the Police HQ, Commando Central, Ministry of Health and Social Protection, the US Embassy, Supreme Court, and the Fiscalia [Attorney General]. It is a great area surrounded by many green spaces and parks, also near to the Central Commercial Shopping Mall. They provided a full range of breakfast items, although some of my colleagues struggled to find options without pork and beef. Funnily, the juice always tasted sour, regardless of the color and fruit you chose.
Besides the conference, we also visited interestingly historical places, such as Bolivar Square and some museums. We went to the Monserrate hill, however due to the cloudy forecast, we did not see the city view properly. La Candelaria was also briefly visited. We shopped downtown and at the Commercial shopping center. We bought some crafts and souvenirs – wooden bowls, leather purses, t-shirts, cups, coffee, and a cowboy hat that I adorned through the rest of the trip. I felt the shopping there was cheaper than in Bangkok, US, UK and everywhere else I have visited in the past. While I am not familiar with the quality, several Colombian clothing and leather brands sounded good.
The symposium was very fruitful for me both for sharing and learning new knowledge. Bogota city is similar to Kathmandu, as a valley surrounded by green mountains, however it is larger in area, more populated and better developed in terms of infrastructure and green spaces. My greatest learning and take-home messages from the conference included researchers who are also diplomats, and that health is a system that must be analyzed holistically, not only clinically.
By Dr. Suresh Tamang, Sr. Research Coordinator at the Research, Advocacy & Monitoring Unit, Nick Simons Institute