Save a spot on the floor for us! Cape Town symposium jottings from the HSG secretariat

As the Health Systems Global secretariat winds down after the official opening of the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, we would like to take a few minutes to share our impressions. 

Save a spot on the floor for us! Cape Town symposium jottings from the HSG secretariat

Jeffrey V. Lazarus, Secretariat Director and co-founder, Health Systems Global

You could say that the exciting pre-symposium events this past Monday and Tuesday in Cape Town, South Africa brought people to the edges of their seats – in fact the very high turnout meant that some folks even watched from seats on the floor. As the Health Systems Global secretariat winds down after the official opening of the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, we would like to take a few minutes to share our impressions.

Welcome to Cape Town! The Third Global Symposium brings together 1700 participants from 92 countries – registration closed early when the conference venue capacity was reached two weeks ago. We warmly welcome all symposium delegates, and we also feel grateful that we are being so kindly welcomed by those who have the good fortune to live in this magical city. Capetonians are a friendly lot!

The new Health Systems Global board. On 28 September 2014, the results of the recent Health Systems Global elections were announced, and one day later the new board sat down for the first time together here in Cape Town. Congratulations to the five people who were elected to the open seats: Dina Balabanova (second term), Lucy Gilson, Kopano Matlwa Mabaso, Kabir Sheikh and Benjamin Uzochukwu. They have joined six continuing board members: Irene Agyepong, Sara Bennett, Fadi El-Jardali, Tim Evans, Quingue Meng and Anne Mills.

The big stories on Monday and Tuesday. Although the symposium itself didn’t begin until late in the day on Tuesday, 30 September, both Monday and Tuesday were packed with satellite sessions, meetings and fascinating conversations everywhere we turned. One of the most popular satellite sessions was “Re-energizing the human resources for health agenda for a post-2015 world” and another was “Understanding health systems as people centred: examples from health policy and practice.” The session “The case for implementation research and delivery science” garnered so much interest that participants were standing outside the room to listen to the discussions. Other buzz that reached our ears concerned the forthcoming Cape Town consensus statement on implementation research and delivery science (IRDS) – watch this space!

Tuesday closed with a special plenary on “Governance and health in Africa: Pan-African perspectives on state stewardship for people’s health,” taking the form of a “dinner table” conversation in which session chair Sisonke Msimang challenged the distinguished panellists with questions about everything from the relationship between democratic governance and health system functioning to the value of the human right to health. The session ended with a sobering exchange of views about the current ebola outbreak – just minutes before news broke about the first US ebola case. As the Third Global Symposium progresses, we will be very eager to see how the many different types of experts gathered in Cape Town formulate their insights and demonstrate their leadership in response to the devastation caused by ebola in western Africa.

Health Systems Global Thematic Working Groups in Action. Health Systems Global’s nine member-driven TWGs, as they are widely known, are finding the conference to be a terrific opportunity to further develop their goals and plans. The initial TWGs came into existence in 2013, and the newest one – Quality of Health Services – just 15 days ago. (Welcome to the fold!) At a Monday evening meeting, Health Systems Global’s board members and TWG leaders shared information and ideas about the TWGs, which are a dynamic platform for the exchange of experiences around key issues in health systems research. On Tuesday, each TWG held its first official in-person meeting.

An item on the business agenda of many TWGs is how to harmonise their work with each other, given the cross-cutting nature of their interests. For example, members of TWGs addressing medicines in health systems, the role of community health workers, health systems in fragile and conflict-affected states, and the ethics of health systems research all potentially have vital information to share with each other. We are excited to watch the TWGs taking form, and we are eager to support them as they evolve in the coming months and years. More information about TWG activities at the symposium and beyond is available on our website.

Upcoming Health Systems Global General Assembly. A reminder to all Health Systems Global members – our society’s annual business meeting will take place at the conference venue on the afternoon of Friday, 3 October. More details will be sent directly to all members soon.

Please see the link on our website for more Health Systems Global activities at the symposium – there are far too many to name here. We look forward to engaging with society members and other symposium participants at these and other events. And, finally, for everyone who is not here physically but is following the symposium virtually, your engagement is just as important. We are in for a bounty of learning, teaching and networking experiences in Cape Town in the next few days, and we want the benefits of this gathering to be shared with as many people as possible.

Please follow us on Twitter @H_S_Global & @JVLazarus and the Symposium via #HSR2014

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