LECTURE FOCUSES ON STRENGTHENING HEALTH SYSTEMS RESEARCH
Academics and students at the Faculty of Health Sciences at UKZN were presented with an insightful lecture on alternatives available in strengthening health systems in Lower and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) by Dr Simon Lewin, a Senior Researcher at the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services and the Medical Research Council of South Africa’s Health Systems Research Unit, on February 17.
An initiative of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology his presentation titled: Building an Evidence base for Health Systems Strengthening in LMICs detailed the importance of health systems strengthening, tools and resources needed to build health systems, the challenges facing this system and the range of strategies that could be utilised to assist policy makers interpret health systems research when creating health policies.
Dr Lewin said strengthening evidence-based health systems was imperative for countries in formulating well-informed health policies. Therefore it was important for processes to be in place that ensured relevant research was identified, appraised and presented in a manner understood by decision makers. In the design of health policy, Dr Lewin suggested policy makers should turn to global evidence as a starting point for judgements with respect to the benefits, harms and costs of policy options.
“Policy makers must draw on global evidence together with local research evidence. This will result in well-developed health policies,” said Dr Lewin.
His presentation focused on the limited empirical evidence on health systems intervention pertaining to LMICs that were actually gathered by researchers from such countries. An example cited was Africa where it was said most research on health systems in the continent had been undertaken by individuals outside African countries. According to Dr Lewin engagement between policy makers and researchers must take place to ensure that local research addresses important health questions.
“Research done by people outside LMICs is not a bad thing. We learn from each other and we gain access to resources. A lack of resources could be one of the reasons why not much of the research concerning LMICs is conducted locally,” said Dr Lewin.
Building the capacity of researchers in lower and middle income countries was a suggestion made by guests in attendance as a means to advance the participation of researchers from these countries in health systems research. According to Dr Lewin academics at universities should take on the responsibility of building the capacity of researchers.
Dr Fatima Suleman, the Head of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology was in agreement with Dr Lewin on the role of South African universities in encouraging research participation in health systems research.
“South African universities need to take ownership of the research needs of their country. They need to collaborate together or with international researchers on health systems research, but ensure that South Africa owns the research and that the results are available to South African role players; not lost in the international publication pool where few have access to such publications,” said Dr Suleman.