Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Cape Times: From Exchange to Change

Reporting from Forum 2012, @SAForum2012

By Julius Mugwagwa

Forum 2012, the 14th edition of the Global Forum for Health Research is underway in Cape Town, South Africa this week (23 - 27 March 2012), under the theme ‘Beyond aid ... research and innovation as key drivers for health equity and development’.

There are three main sub-themes for the conference: improving and increasing investments in research and innovation; networking and partnerships for research and innovation; and creating environments that support research and innovation. This year’s event is a joint initiative between the COHRED Group (Council on Health Research for Development), and the Republic of South Africa’s Departments of Science & Technology and Health. Keynote addresses by the organisers, and the flavour of the various satellite sessions and themed panels are all pointing towards the need to see change on the ground ... in other words to see how deliberations from this meeting, and various efforts in companies, research laboratories, hospitals and other facilities with a mandate on health across the world can lead to people having easier and more affordable access to medicines and other health products and accessories.

There has been talk here about the need to move from ‘ambition to action’, from ‘exchange to change’, and from ‘discourses to walking the course’. The frequency with which the calls for this movement have come through has not failed to recognise that the key challenge will always be ‘how to do all this’ in practice. While there is renewed global and national enthusiasm in science, technology and innovation for health, living and documented memory confirms that such enthusiasm has been experienced before.

One delegate from a prominent health product development partnership in Africa noted over coffee that ‘‘what we do not do enough of is an analysis of how we got to be where we are now’’ ... and ‘‘to establish where we got ‘off the rails’’’. He says he has no ambition to be the president of his country of origin, but if it were to happen that he became president, his first act would be to order every one, everywhere within the borders of his country to STOP working for one full week. Yes, grind everything to a halt! Reflect! Then restart! Others, though not so radical in their approach to closing the gap between exchange and change, were equally for business as unusual. One retired medical practitioner raised the need to periodically re-examine our own motives, mandates and capacities as researchers, saying ... ‘‘If we have not delivered in a long time and a lot else around us has changed except us, where do we need to look?’’.

The Forum continues till Friday with a number of sessions attempting to cover the breadth of health issues ... from partnerships and networks for health research, entrepreneurship in research and innovation for health & human resources for health to technology transfer, involvement of youth in health research innovation & metrics of investment and aid in health; among others. The jury will remain out during and beyond the Forum on how developing countries move beyond aid, and stay there ... but for me one urgent need is for more map readers and fewer visionaries! We need to know where we are and how we got here, then chart the way(s) forward.

Forum 2012

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