By Lilian Otiso
I spent the first two days of November with the gurus of health systems research near Heathrow airport listening to and contributing to the review and development of the new 2016 -2020 strategic plan for Health Systems Global. I was impressed by the clarity and drive of my colleagues and was pleased to see a consensus emerge on where HSG and health systems research as a whole should be heading.
Exciting words like catalytic, enabler, facilitator, influencer, dynamic and start-up popped up a lot in relation to the HSG vision. In my opinion, given HSG’s powerful position and by using its network it can play the role of convening, connecting and influencing researchers, policy makers and funders. This also includes knowledge translation for global, regional and national-levels policy makers so that evidence generated is actually used in practice. The ever vibrant and vivacious Lucy Gilson capped it by comparing it to a ‘battery powered octopus whose tentacles spread out to connect the different elements’. That image is now stuck in my head.
We reflected on the journey of health systems research over the past years and where we think it’s headed, taking into consideration emerging global changes. As Anne Mills, HSG Board member and veteran of health systems research, put it: ‘It’s a cycle; we’re going back to the beginning’. A sentiment that was echoed by a wide range of people in the room: young and old; researchers and funders; from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Projecting into the future, key considerations that came up were: the not to be ignored SDGs that have reduced health to 1 of 17 priorities; changing demographics, epidemiology and emerging diseases e.g. NCDs; the continuing quest for Universal Health Coverage (UHC); advancing technology; shifts in donor priorities and hopes for increased local funding for health and health research; and the migrant crisis in Europe, among others. With all these changes taking place, the question of what health systems research should focus on is indeed a challenging one.
Emerging voices were well represented by the eloquent Kopano who is a member of the HSG Board. Her appeal to include EVs in TWG activities and grooming as the next HSG and TWG leaders was very timely, especially for us TWG representatives around the table.
Discussions on the role of TWGs in HSG demonstrated that besides our own agenda we have to contribute to the overall strategic direction of HSG. TWGs also need to define their leadership and governance structures. It became clear to me that it is our responsibility as TWG leaders to contribute to mobilizing members for HSG and provide support in organization of the global symposium. TWGs must also never forget the all-important goal of capacity building, which in our discussions was divided into two aspects: the individual capacity building through webinars, sharing papers and mentorship, but also building the field of research that is our area of interest through advancing the research methods and driving demand for that field. More thinking and discussion is required here. HSG is quite aware that the TWGs don’t represent all the areas of interest but what we have is a start. The issue of supporting TWGs with small seed funding was also raised and the Secretariat will explore the possibilities for achieving this.
As we await the launch of the shiny or matt (sic) strategy in Vancouver in 2016, I would like to reassure HSG members that the organization/movement/network is in safe and very capable hands under the leadership of Sara Bennett (chair), Kabir Sheikh (vice chair) and the other board officials who are highly committed to the substantial amount of work that they perform on a voluntary basis. They are very ably supported by Curatio International who hold the Secretariat position and Inis Communications, the communications team. Kudos Curatio, I have never been to such a well-organized meeting with so much advance preparation and neatly organized folders with colour coded documents- lessons to take home. We also appreciate Inis for advances in finding and making proposals for the knowledge hub that TWG members can use and connect all of us.
As I conclude, I note that there is still a lot to be done by both HSG and the TWGs but we’re definitely on the right path. I look forward to the new strategy and the next 5 years of Health Systems Global.