Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Copenhagen, 30th April
To Copenhagen, for the European consultation on the forthcoming Ministerial Conference on Health Research that will be held in Bamako, Mali, this November. I’ve been engaged with this process for a while, through WHO EURO.
The conference follows on from one held in Mexico City in 2004. It will be important as it will contribute to the agenda for global health research in the next number of years. Hence, it is essential to get it right.
My concern is that we risk losing sight of the fact that it is a global conference, albeit one that is, in part, focused on Africa. I don’t want to diminish for one second the enormous need for health research in Africa and, in particular, the importance of building research capacity there, but we should not forget the needs of the rest of the world.
Last November, we organised a consultation on European priorities for Bamako at the conference of the European Public Health Association (later published in the
Eur J Public Health). We highlighted three priorities for research in Europe (on top of the ones that will be included anyway because of their global reach, such as tobacco and HIV). These were migration, aging, and alcohol, while we also flagged up the contribution that Europe could make to the rest of the world in research on complex chronic disorders, which will be the real challenge for everyone in the future, whether we are talking of diabetes or HIV or something else.
This time we were looking more widely, and the Danish Foreign Ministry had brought together what seemed to be over 100 people in their very attractive conference on the sea front in Copenhagen. I was arguing, in a panel discussion, that the health systems framework we will be using in the forthcoming Tallinn conference bears closer inspection. It highlights the beneficial reciprocal relationships between health systems, health, and wealth. Beyond that, I think we have three questions about capacity that are of concern to those of us working in Europe.
  • First, how can we get the basic data in place, by which I mean regular health examination and health interview surveys, that are comparable across all of Europe? These are being developed but we are already so far behind the USA.
  • Second, how can we establish better links between research and policy? Obviously I would say that the European Observatory is a good model but we also need to learn much more from the Canadians with their knowledge brokers.
  • Third, how can we build up research capacity in our own neighbourhood. Research capacity in many parts of the former Soviet Union or in the Middle East or North Africa is far weaker than in countries like Uganda or Tanzania.
So at Bamako I hope that Africa does get attention – it deserves it. But we should not forget the rest of the world.

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