By Andrea Rinaldi – Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net
The day is coming. Tomorrow, 26 February, a meeting on ‘Boosting research for health in the new Arab world’ will begin in Bellagio, north Italy. Before formal discussion kicks off, we asked Hassen Ghannem, senior consultant to the Geneva-based Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) and meeting organizer, about the background and objectives of the conference.
What is the current situation of health research in the Arab countries?
“Policymakers in the developed world understand that research, science and technology are vital components of economic growth and prosperity. But, in the Arab world, translating this realization into policies and actions backed by resource commitments has been a major challenge.
In particular, weaknesses of research for health in the Arab world are seen in three areas: low investment in research and development; weak national health research systems, with considerable fragmentation and little or no coordination at the national and international level; poor scientific production and impact, as a result of low investment and weak systems.”
In your personal opinion, what is to be done to change this situation? Is the Arab Spring going to have a significant impact on the status quo?
“This region is currently experiencing major historical changes with the aspiration to freedom, democracy and more equitable development. Research for health is essential to understanding the current and future projected health needs of the population and developing approaches and solutions that can contribute to health improvements.
Because research for health and national systems of research for health have been weak in the region, this time of change creates a historic opportunity to undertake key strategic actions in research and innovation, with particular focus on strengthening national systems of research for health leading to improvements in health and development. This could be done, among other things, by engaging policymakers and stakeholders to equip them with tools and skills needed for making informed decisions, and by hosting dialogues and consultative meetings to bring a range of stakeholders together to facilitate policy dialogues leading to more commitment to fund research in the region.”
What do you hope will come out of the Bellagio’s meeting?
“The overall goal is to end up with a strong call to action to strengthen system capacity for research and innovation for health in the Arab world, and to develop an effective communication strategy to disseminate and keep this alive until the regional conference that is planned for later this year or 2014.”
This blog post is part of our coverage of Boosting Research for Health in the New Arab World meeting which takes place 26 February – 1 March 2013, in Bellagio, Italy. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.