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22 November 2020

Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government Concludes Phase One of the 6th Virtual Global Symposium on Health Systems Research

The Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government (MBRSG) has concluded the first phase of the sixth annual Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR2020), where healthcare policymakers and experts gathered over five days to discuss various aspects of healthcare policies in light on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the theme ‘Re-Imagining Health Systems for Better Health and Social Justice’, the 2020 edition of the Symposium was held remotely for the first time and in collaboration with the Knowledge to Policy (K2P) Centre at the American University of Beirut’s Faculty of Health Sciences, in addition to other partners including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

Phase one of HSR2020 took place from November 8 to 12, 2020, with experts in various sessions and plenaries examining leadership and professional development in the healthcare sector. Meanwhile, phase two of the Symposium is scheduled to run from November 25, 2020, until March 17, 2021, featuring two rounds of parallel sessions every two weeks.

“The world is undergoing unprecedented challenges and rapid developments that have called into question some of our existing practices, revealing an urgent need for a more proactive approach that anticipates crises and develops appropriate solutions for them,” said MBRSG’s Executive President, His Excellency Dr Ali Sebaa Al Marri. “As always, the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research presents itself as the ideal opportunity to discuss health challenges facing the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region and the world – a discussion that has been made all the more essential by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

The first plenary session was held on Tuesday, November 10, 2020, under the title ‘Holding Power to Account within National Health Systems’. Moderated by Dr. Fadi El-Jardali, Professor of Health Policy and Systems at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the panel brought together Rachel Cooper, Director of the Transparency International Health Initiative; Esperanza Ceron, Executive Director, Educar Consumidores, Colombia; Atty Jacqueline De Guia, Executive Director of the Commission on Human Rights; Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, Global Director of Health, Nutrition, and Population at the World Bank; and Dr. Arhundhati Joshi, Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies. 

Transparency was the critical topic of discussion during the first plenary session, where panellists underlined the role that the COVID-19 pandemic played in raising awareness about the importance of emergency settings, as well as the need for accountability in the sector. The experts agreed on a set of indispensable actions to the sector, namely, building collaborative partnerships, engaging and mobilising the community, ensuring transparency of processes, strengthening capacities, sensitising the sector to corruption issues, and empowering the media.

Plenary number two followed on Wednesday, November 11, where the panel of experts explored the topic of ‘Engaging Social, Economic, and Environmental Forces: Responding to Population Mobility Conflict and Climate Change.’ Joining the panel were Dr. Zahed Katurji, CEO, Action for Sama; Waleska Caiaffa, Full Professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais; Dr. Kolitha Wickramage, Global Health Research, and Epidemiology Coordinator at the International Organisation for Migration; and Kristie L. Ebi, Professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health. The session was moderated by Professor Pascale Allotey, Director of the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health.

In the second plenary session, panellists explored the impact of social, economic, and environmental factors and developments on health systems. With extensive, hands-on experience with various health challenges, the experts offered insight into the obstacles that health policies must overcome. This included a perspective from the only functioning health facility in Aleppo, Syria, into the unique challenges health systems under conflict face, which are rarely taken into account by funding bodies, such as the dire need to include infrastructure for safety and shelter into funding priorities.

The panel discussed comprehensive HSR in the context of migration; there are currently 272 million international migrants, and despite progress in advancing migrant health, there is still a lack of meaningful migrant inclusion in health systems and programmes. The impact of climate change on health systems was also on the agenda. Experts cited projections suggesting that any additional climate change unit will increase the burden of diseases, changing their geographic range, seasonality, and transmission intensity. The experts finally explored health inequalities and their connection to intra-urban differences and social determinants, as revealed by studies on COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths.

The third and final plenary session in phase one of HSR2020, which was held on Thursday, November 12, was titled ‘Engaging Technological, Data, and Social Innovations’, and moderated by Dr. Seye Abimbola, Senior Lecturer at the University Of Sydney, Australia. It brought together renowned American Cardiologist, Scientist, and Author Eric Topol; Dr. Claudia Pagliari, Senior Lecturer in eHealth and Director of the Global eHealth Programme at the University of Edinburgh; Dr. Dari Alhuwail, Assistant Professor at Kuwait University; Dr. Robyn Whittaker, Associate Professor at the University of Auckland; and Dr. Pratap Kumar, Senior Lecturer at Strathmore University Business School.

The experts on the panel asserted that deep learning is a revolution in healthcare for both doctors and patients, enhancing accuracy and giving healthcare providers the tools to improve their service delivery. Panellists reaffirmed that advancements in digital health technologies could not replace human bonds, calling for a consensus on a classification system for artificial intelligence. They flagged a “strong need” for regulatory frameworks, especially in low-resource countries where governance systems are weaker, in addition to the importance of training the workforce to leverage AI, developing sustainable business models, and involving consumers and front-line staff in developing AI health tools. 

“It is necessary to make sure the proposed solutions fit the context and are something that people want, that they are culturally adapted, fit with local policies and accountability, and are focused on those who need it most, and the participating experts agreed, noting the importance of giving patients more power and control over their information,” added Dr. Immanuel Azaad Moonesar R.D., Associate Professor of Health Administration and Policy at MBRSG.

The sixth virtual Global Symposium on Health Systems Research welcomed over 2,296 decision-makers, experts, and researchers from more than 107 countries around the world, to discuss the current challenges facing the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, including changing demographics, pandemics, and internal conflicts that significantly affect health and resources. With a full agenda of diversified sessions, HSR2020 discussed possible responses to these challenges from multiple sectors, emphasizing the importance of achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

The event achieved great popularity on social media too, attracting thousands of followers from around the world. The hashtag #HSR2020 registered more than 11 million interactions, including retweets, likes, and comments. Meanwhile, the hashtag #ReimagineHealthSystems – the theme of this year’s edition of the event – received 2.5 million interactions from all over the world, reflecting the Symposium’s reputation as an important platform for discussing challenges and solutions for the global health sector. Experts and observers from various countries have followed the event in order to exchange opinions and experiences about this vital sector, which has become a top priority in light of the unprecedented current circumstances.

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