Prof. Peter Annear, Nossal Institute for Global Health, The University of Melbourne and Dr Maryam Bigdeli, WHO Country Representative for Morocco
Please share with us a moment to remember very fondly our friend and colleague, Dr Bart Jacobs, who died at hospital in Thailand on Friday 15 January 2021, following a tragic traffic accident in Phnom Penh.
Bart lived and worked for 20 years in Cambodia and Laos and was widely known across southeast Asia. Born at Vilvoorde in Belgium in 1967, he spent his early adult years briefly in Russia and then Queensland in the north of Australia before moving to Cambodia.
We are thinking too with care and sympathy for Bart’s Cambodian wife and two children, who shared his life during his long residence in rural Kirivong district, where he worked and settled for many years, and later in Vientiane and Phnom Penh.
Bart began his work in Cambodia in 2000 in Maung Russey District, Battambang Province, as a Public Health Advisor for Bridging Relief Aid. A year later moved to Kirivong District in Takeo Province, where he worked as a health district manager together with the Ministry of Health (2001-2007). He lived and worked in Vientiane as a WHO advisor on health financing and health systems to the Lao Ministry of Health (2007-2013), and returned to Cambodia to take up a position with GIZ (German International Development), working as a Social Health Protection Advisor. He held advisory roles at the National Institute of Public Health and the General Secretariat of the National Social Protection Council and served as the Cambodia focal person for the international Social Health Protection Network P4H.
Bart held masters’ degrees in Health Planning and Development and Health Systems Management and a PhD in Public Health Sciences (with the Institute for Tropical Medicine, Antwerp). He was well known for his acute and comprehensive knowledge of the published literature on health systems strengthening in Cambodia, Laos and across Asia and he was the author of many widely read and cited scientific publications based on his work in Cambodia and Laos.
Thanks to Bart’s publication, the once remote district of Kirivong is now familiar to many authors who work on planning, contracting and health district performance. He worked closely with Cambodian colleagues to develop, implement and coordinate initiatives related to health financing for Universal Health Coverage. While he worked with a national and systemic vision, sharing the results of his technical work internationally, he remained deeply connected to grassroots levels and supported local initiatives such as the Pagoda Equity Funds and the idea of small local subsidies or microcredits to empower the poorer populations to access the services they need.
For his dedicated work in Cambodia, Bart was recently awarded the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Monisaraphon, a medal presented by royal decree of the King of Cambodia.
Bart’s sad and much too early passing is an enormous loss not only for his family, friends and colleagues but also to many in Cambodia and Laos who benefited from his work and his many contributions. He was a passionate health system advocate and a researcher by nature, but always mindful or how and where practice and implementation really make the difference. He was a warm, open, kind and engaging friend who cared very much for those around him. We remember him fondly for his love, companionship, ready conversation and easy humour.