By Martin Muhire, Emerging Voice for Global Health 2014
Weeks have passed since the Cape Town statement from the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research. I attended the symposium as an Emerging Voice for global health, an initiative of the Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp, Belgium, and a vision of Prof Van Damme.
Following a great time I had as an Emerging Voice trainee, characterized by lots of skills-building, I was energized to attend and participate in the symposium given that there were experienced delegates from around the globe. A glance at the symposium schedule of sessions was a manifestation that the symposium would be interesting. I wished it was possible for me to attend all of the sessions.
Every speaker who came to the podium and the audience seemed to agree that health systems were weak especially in the Global South with some making reference to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa resulting from weak health systems. As I listened attentively, there were continued calls for better health systems. Discussions went on regarding increasing victims of weak health systems all over the world. My impression was that people meant to be served by the health systems were absent from the symposium. One speaker mentioned “Where are those experiencing the consequences of our weak health systems?” Who are those anyway? Are they not part of us here as delegates? As presentations went on my mind was tuned to thinking whether more than 1700 delegates attending the symposium were not victims of weak health systems. Do we just take ourselves as health systems researchers who are immune to poor health systems? Do health systems exclude us by virtue of being researchers? The answer to these questions was NO. I continue to argue that the challenges with achieving better health care is creating an impression that health systems have been designed for the ones with problems- the sick and forget that we – researchers, policy and decision-makers are also victims of certain diseases or have at one time fallen sick to be precise.
It is not until we change our mindset and stop thinking as health systems researchers but rather as linked, directly or indirectly, to weak health systems that we shall make an impact in this world we live in. This is the reason why some take-home messages at the closure of the symposium were surprising like one highlighted in a blog by a fellow 2014 EV, Dorcus Henriksson “We didn’t involve the community and one of the main lessons learnt was to involve the community.” Seriously? I asked myself. How do we involve the community; what was not done well in involving the community previously? I wish I had answers to these questions from the symposium. As an emerging researcher I needed to hear actionable lessons from the symposium.
I hope the 2016 Vancouver symposium will address different methodologies to achieve people-centred health systems like patient and community empowerment in health.