Making new friends, and the unified choir

Our desire for improved health globally is what makes HSG so important and so powerful

Making new friends, and the unified choir

By Aku Kwamie, HSG Board Candidate 2016

Reflecting on the HSG consultation last week reminded me that at various points in time, I had toyed with the idea of becoming a medical doctor, a hospital administrator, and a science journalist. Research won the day – happily for me – and thinking about these once-upon-a-time flights of fancy also underlined for me the similarities, rather than the differences, between these distinct professions. What connects them all is an interest in understanding how good health is achieved, regardless of the perspective.

And so it is with our community here within Health Systems Global; our desire for improved health globally is what makes HSG so important and so powerful. We need a space to understand one another, and teach, learn and grow together, so that we might advocate – diverse voices in a unified choir – for resilient, equitable, and sustainable health systems which serve all people – including those who serve in them.

‘Make new friends, but keep the old: one is silver and the other gold’. My mother used to sing this to us, and in fact, would make us sing it in a round (confession: sometimes she still does). Despite the creaky beginnings, and momentary tone-deafness, we would eventually find ourselves in a lovely harmony, going round and round until boisterous laughter meant we couldn’t go on. Of the strategic preoccupations for HSG in the coming period, I believe that the achievement of fuller representation of the currently under-represented (both geographic and stakeholders) will be one of the greatest markers of progress for HSG. In other words, we are recruiting for the choir, not simply preaching to it.

Especially as a candidate from the AFRO region (West Africa) I share the concerns of others who note our under-representation, not only at Symposia, but also on other communication platforms. We need to do some work to understand exactly what the barriers are. This is of prime concern when we consider that health systems in Africa face some of the most pressing compounded challenges in financing, delivery and equity. Therefore our own voices need to be heard. This is true of other regions as well.

Again, which voices are these? Not only researchers or policy-makers, but managers, teachers, students, journalists, social entrepreneurs, communities, retired experts, and non-health specialists too. Some think that a system is not a system when it is not working right. But actually it remains a system, just a non-functioning one. Our jobs are to tweak it back to work, and we can only succeed in this when we have all the eyes which can see the problem, and the humility to try on other perspectives.

The work I am currently involved in across West and Central Africa speaks precisely to these issues of convening, networking, advocating and strengthening HPSR across languages, countries, disciplines, organisations and levels. What is especially gratifying is the focus we have on emerging leaders in both practice and research, which connects back to both the Emerging Voices venture, and the Emerging Leaders through the Consortium for Health Policy and Systems Analysis in Africa (CHEPSAA). We have been concerted in our outreach efforts to the under-represented, and in using technology; there are definitely global lessons to be shared.

This is the perspective and experience I will bring to the HSG Board. Though I speak primarily from West Africa, I am deeply committed to working towards and understanding better representation and how can be had for all regions and groupings where it is needed.

Diverse voices in a unified choir – this is what we are. Already, there are some excellent ideas in the HSG Strategic Plan 2016-2020, and some fresh ones were volleyed about last week. After such a noteworthy start, the next few years will be years of consolidation for HSG. We need to think broadly and courageously about how to invite those of us who are not currently singing, but who know the tune, to sing along. As a candidate to the HSG Board, I promise to bring my passion, energy, and ideas to bear on this undertaking, amongst others.

Thank you.

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