Roundtable discussion on the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research: why prioritise talk over aid in the midst of the Ebola crisis?

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Health systems experts from around the world discuss why they were meeting at the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research while people were dying of Ebola in West Africa.

Why were we meeting while real people were dying of Ebola in West Africa? This is what Christian Mpoyi Kalala, owner of a restaurant in Cape Town, asked one of the authors of this roundtable article. All of the money spent for smartly dressed people to travel to Cape Town, and stay in comfortable accommodations, and meet for days at a fancy convention centre – why not use the money instead to buy medicines for people with Ebola?

Those of us who had the good fortune to participate in the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in late 2014 know very well that the event enabled us to share knowledge in ways that might potentially accelerate health systems strengthening efforts worldwide. Such work is vital because the global health community cannot afford to lurch from one headline crisis to another, whether the crisis unfolds across years and decades, as the AIDS epidemic has, or whether it is driven by a disease that can overwhelm entire countries in months.

The research, policy and advocacy efforts nurtured by the Third Global Symposium will surely demonstrate its worth to the global health community in many ways in the coming years, and there is a clear demand for more of these types of fora at the global and regional levels. The purpose of this roundtable discussion is not to invite health systems experts to argue the case for why such gatherings are warranted. Instead, we would like to invite some of those who attended the Cape Town event to take up the challenge of explaining to Mpoyi Kalala and other members of the general public why our efforts are needed.

We anticipate that this journal article will be read primarily by health policy and health systems specialists, and yet we suggest that our approach to the article presents a valuable opportunity for roundtable contributors and readers alike. It is not enough for us to have a discourse among ourselves about what needs to happen in order for health systems to be better prepared for the next infectious disease epidemic or outbreak. It is not even enough for those in health systems circles to communicate in ways that bring other actors such as communicable and non-communicable disease experts into their circles. We are leaving out the most important stakeholders of all if we are unable to explain the value of our work to the broad general public.

With this assertion as the premise for the following roundtable discussion, we have invited a number of people who attended the Third Global Symposium to make brief contributions answering the following simple question: how do you respond to Christian Mpoyi Kalala?

In other words, why – in layperson’s terms – should efforts to share knowledge about a broad array of health systems issues be prioritised at a time when resources are urgently needed to address an acute health crisis?

Read the article »


Authors: Jeffrey V. Lazarus, Dina Balabanova, Kelly Safreed-Harmon, Karen Daniels, Kopano Matlwa Mabaso, Martin McKee, Tolib Mirzoev, Adnan A. Hyder, Sofia Gruskin
Published By: BMC Health Services Research
Date: May 7, 2015
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