On Saturday November 15, over a dozen African researchers and decision makers together with selected international partners joined IDRC staff to begin expanding their research horizons and identifying emerging priorities in research for health.
This “pre-forum” meeting was planned to precede and take advantage of the rare opportunity provided by the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health which begins on November 17 in the Malian capital.
IDRC’s Governance, Equity and Health programme initiative coordinated this 2-day pre-forum to provide an opportunity for researchers from and working in West and Central Africa to come together for a period of strategic reflection. The workshop will help researchers and IDRC refine their strategic research priorities in research for health for the sub-region.
The vision behind the pre-forum is to identify links between research, policy, and health systems – be it in relation to an initiative launched in 2007 to establish an ongoing, action-oriented dialogue between researchers and policy makers in Benin, or a study on how to decrease maternal and neonatal mortality in eastern Mali’s Kayes region, or access to health care in Senegal.
Launched in 2003, Governance, Equity and Health is a global programme which aims to strengthen health systems while promoting and supporting active, evidence-informed involvement stakeholders from the local to the global levels in improving health outcomes. Currently, the three major pillars of GEH programming are human resources for health and health research, information and evidence for health, and health financing. In particular, GEH emphasizes the links between governance and equity in health, by examining the connections between how power is exercised by public bodies and citizens alike and how health-promoting services are distributed fairly across a population.
According to Pat Naidoo, Programme Leader of GEH, the challenge is “to define strategic entrypoints to strengthen health systems, and to find approaches that are most appropriate for the West African region”.
“It is important to know where we are with respect to health systems, and to cultivate a spirit of exchange and of constructive analysis and critique”, noted Kathryn Touré, Director of IDRC’s Regional Office for West and Central Africa in Dakar.
The potential impacts on health research of the financial crisis affecting the world also figured in the discussions.
“We are at a critical juncture. We may be facing a very challenging situation in regards to resources for research and for health”, explained Christina Zarowsky, Programme Manager of Research for Health Equity at IDRC. “In such circumstances, it is more urgent than ever to make sure that decisions, policies, and resources allocations are based on solid scientific evidence.”
For their part, the African researchers at the workshop stressed constraints arising from political and structural realities which hold back the development of research and, above all, the application and utilisation of research findings by decision makers in most African countries.
“Health financing is undergoing an identity crisis”, noted Burkinabe researcher Abel Bicaba, who is analysing the impact of public policy related to subsidized and “free” obstetrical services. According to this expert, these subsidies are fragmented across programmes and districts and are often poorly coordinated or linked to a common approach.
The debates over the two days also stressed that researchers have a role to play in developing health policies, but that this role must be better defined and put into practice.