By Kumanan Rasanathan, Aku Kwamie, Daniel Maceira, Andres Vecino Ortiz, George Gostadze, Nanuka Jalaghonia
As we look forward to the 6th Global Symposium on Health Systems Research next year, work has already started on selecting the venue for the 7th Global Symposium in 2022. While the Health Systems Global (HSG) Board has written before on how symposia venues are selected, most HSG members probably remain unaware about how much work is involved, or that we start four years before the actual event. So, as we move forward on choosing the 2022 host city, as the Board working group for this selection, we thought we’d provide an update.
We know there’s a lot of interest in our community on where the Symposium is held – understandably given the selection’s influence on participation, but also because our community expects the choice to reflect principles important to HSG, especially diversity and inclusion. We’ve listened to the criticism of previous choices around perceived obstacles to participation, especially visa approvals, and around human rights issues.
There are some obvious criteria in selecting the venue. Most HSG members probably know that we aim for regional rotation (reflecting HSG’s vision to promote health policy and systems research (HPSR) in all regions and the potential for the Symposium to stimulate participation of researchers, policymakers and practitioners in regions with lesser engagement), and to have hosts with a strong HPSR network. But there are also less obvious criteria, many of which revolve under practical and logistical considerations. For example, the Symposium now accommodates over 2000 people, and we can still only include a small percentage of abstracts submitted. This means we need to find a venue that can hold this many people and run multiple parallel streams – or else further limit the number of participants and abstracts. Given the financial structure of the society, we also need a symposium host country that has transparent and reliable tax arrangements allowing free movement of funds to and from the country. In practice, these requirements constrain hosting the symposium in many otherwise attractive countries, which lack sufficient venues, accommodation, or tax regimes to meet the Symposium’s needs.
Conscious that three consecutive Symposia (Vancouver, Liverpool and Dubai) will have been in high-income countries, we are determined that the 2022 symposium must be in a low- or middle-income country. It’s hard to get a perfect place that meets all of our wish list in terms of access and values, but we’re trying as hard as we can, and have developed criteria to reflect this. But we’re also limited, as previous selection processes have been, by the pool of applicant cities.
The criteria we are using this time includes eight dimensions. Four are absolute in that they can be adjudicated easily and must be satisfied by the successful applicant: a venue in a low- or middle-income country; a region that can credibly be seen as not having hosted the Symposium previously (not necessarily according to WHO regional classification); a physical venue large enough to accommodate the demands of the Symposium in terms of space and number of meeting rooms; and tax and fiduciary/ banking regulations that enable free flow funds and revenue repatriation. In addition, another four dimensions will be considered that will require more of a detailed assessment than the first four criteria, but reflect the values of HSG so important to our community. These include the existence of a strong local network for HPSR; the human rights context, particularly its impact on supporting access for all to the Symposium; the nature of the country’s visa regime and the accessibility and price of transport from different regions to the venue.
We are pleased to have received several strong expressions of interest from a diverse set of countries, and full applications for 2022 will be received by the end of July. We hope to work with the applicants and have a final selection endorsed by the Board in early 2020. We’ll keep you posted as it proceeds, and, on behalf of the Board, also welcome comments and input on how to improve the venue selection process for future years.