By Kakaire Ayub Kirunda
With support from the Future Health Systems (FHS) consortium, seven schools of public health (SPHs) in East and Central Africa have embarked on a five-year project to strengthen their capacity to undertake high quality, policy relevant health systems research (HSR).
During a three-day regional meeting in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, the schools from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, D. R. Congo, and Ethiopia presented findings from capacity self-assessments, from which seven thematic areas of collaboration emerged.
Among the seven thematic areas that emerged from the schools’ self-assessments include: funding availability and resource mobilization, faculty development for HSR, database and library resources for HSR and support for and coordination of HSR activities. Others are setting national HSR priorities, knowledge translation and communication, and developing HSR curricula.
The schools are under the umbrella of the Higher Education Alliance for Leadership through Health (HEALTH Alliance). In addition to the Africa Hub, the Alliance also coordinates other programs, like the One Health initiative and also supports the deans of the SPHs to convene, discuss, and resolve common management issues.
Speaking of the self-assessment findings, the HEALTH Alliance Director Prof. William Bazeyo said the information generated was vital for HSR planning in the respective countries, yet governments did not have it.
“If you work on these findings and synthesized them into position papers or policy briefings and give them to the right people at the right time, they can be useful,” said Prof. Bazeyo, who is also dean of the Makerere University School of Public Health, which hosts the HEALTH Alliance.
Officiating at the meeting, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Moi University Prof. Bob Weshitemi observed that the kind of health systems research that the seven schools intend to focus on should have an ultimate goal of benefiting communities and improving their livelihoods.
But for that to happen, according to Prof. Weshitemi, the kind of research to be conducted should be the type that goes beyond helping researchers get promotions.
“We should ask ourselves if we are doing research that is relevant. Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes it is no,” said Prof. Weshitemi. “We should focus more on research that drives the development agenda. In Kenya, the national council for science and technology has embarked on a process to identify key relevant research for the country.”
And while the HEALTH Alliance member countries can achieve these, “funding needs to be increased,” according to Prof. Weshitemi.
The Chief Executive Officer of FHS, Dr. Sara Bennett, pledged modest annual support to the Africa Hub over the next five years. She commended the schools for the work done over the last one year that has generated a lot of evidence that will guide HSR capacity strengthening activities over the next five years.
The schools are now drawing annual work plans and have initiated new drives for additional funding to be in position to implement the immense work under the identified in the seven thematic areas.
In addition to Makerere University and Moi University, the other schools of public health under the Alliance are found at Nairobi University (Kenya), National University of Rwanda, Jimma University (Ethiopia), Kinshasa University (DR Congo) and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Tanzania).