BY SARA BENNETT, CEO of FUTURE HEALTH SYSTEMS, JOHNS HOPKINS BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH
As colleagues from around the world converge on Beijing, I am stuck in Washington, D.C. with the flight departure screens displaying a never-ending list of cancelled flights. Here in D.C. not many people are aware of the symposium in Beijing, and not many people care about Health Systems Global – or as I would prefer it to be called, the new Society for Health Systems Research. I am reminded of an email written by a friend when I wrote suggesting that he stand to be a Board member – he wrote back, saying (and I paraphrase): “Why should I care about this, I don’t think this new global society will have much impact on my country, or the things that I care about.” From a wind and rain-swept, election-obsessed D.C., it is easy to feel the same.
But I do care, and I am upset that I will not be there for the opening of the Symposium. Why is this?
I have been blessed to have worked with some fantastic researchers in this field – too many to name them all here – but despite this, it has been rare that I have felt part of a professional community. I have constantly had to think about how I position my specific interests in health systems research in a way that will make sense to my epidemiological/ economist/ policy-oriented [delete as appropriate] colleagues. At the first symposium in Montreux I was struck by the fact that, for the first time ever, 80% of my professional network was present at the same meeting.
Cynics might say, ‘So what, this is just another opportunity for an expensive jamboree, that everyone enjoys but achieves little in the end’. I beg to differ.
No one came to HSR to get rich, or to have their name plastered all over the Lancet (pah, the Lancet only recently figured out how much HSR matters). We came because we were intrigued by the dilemmas, because we saw the potential to change health systems, and we began to get an inkling of the major impacts that such changes could have on the poor – not just on their access to services, but on how their voice is included in policy debates, and how their needs are reflected across government.
Health systems research has been an orphan subject for way too long – squeezed between prestigious, epidemiological randomized control trials on the one hand, and mainstream social science research on the other. The Symposium and the new global society for health systems research can be the first steps in changing this and thus, changing the way health systems work for the poor and disenfranchised, as well as the middle class. And that’s why I’m standing for election to the Board of the Society.
For the Society to really work, we need everyone engaged – all those who have been laboring in the HSR trenches and who currently think that there is nothing in Beijing, nor the Society, for them. Despite IHP’s best (and sometimes extremely entertaining efforts), many of us are still in the dark as to what the Society is about. That needs to change: with transparent and responsive governance, the Society could help build community, build HSR capacity, develop a common language and terminology for HSR, and help enable us all to be the change agents in health systems that we want to be.
Airports in D.C. re-open tomorrow: I will be in-line early. Wish me luck!