HSR symposium Liverpool - South - South Collaboration the new normal in development cooperation
In the second satellite session organised by SPHIP in the HSR symposium, around 45 discussed that regional exchange and joint action of health organisations in Asia and Africa results in better research education and policy development, geared to local needs. With dwindling resources in development cooperation, mutual regional support can be a good alternative.
Summary of discussion triangular learning in SPHIP
The LEARN project in Laos explained the university collaboration between the University of Health Sciences, Department of Public Health in Vientiane and University of Public Health in Hanoi, Vietnam for a joint Master programme in Public Health. Both universities developed together course outlines and teaching syllabi, including assessment criteria in order to achieve accreditation in both countries. Exchange of teachers enriched the programme.
The University of Public Health in Yangon, Myanmar, has a collaboration with universities in Thailand, that helps strengthening the institute. In addition, the University of Public Health is creating a centre for implementation science, and knowledge hub from NCDs through collaboration in international regional networks. It aspires to become a regional knowledge centre. A surveillance system is created together with Indonesian colleagues.
The SPHaïtiLab project received support in evaluation of performance of medical laboratories and laboratory policy formulation from the African Institute of Public Health in Burkina Faso, which used the experiences from its previous work in African countries. In addition, there was an exchange of a master student from Haiti to Burkina Faso to complete the public health studies.
The SPEED project in Uganda collaborates with the Human Science Research Council in South Africa to develop the Policy Implementation Barometer (to assess performance of the health sector in policy implementation). The experiences from Uganda now help to develop the PIB further in South Africa. The SHARE project from Bangladesh plans a visit to Uganda to learn about this barometer and implement similar research.
Key points raised in session
The question is raised whether regional collaboration is a real added value? Most participants agree that it is helpful and that it reduces costs in comparison with a European/American cooperation. However, currently it is mostly a donor driven approach, that demand a dominant role of Western organisations. There is more advocacy needed to create commitment from governments to maintain regional networks in health (also when this is not financed by Western partners). The willingness to invest in regional collaboration is high during emergencies, as was shown during the Ebola crisis, but not for lasting problems, such as malaria, HIV etc. In these health problems, governments do not really look at solutions their neighbours find. As countries develop socio-economically (transition countries) they will have to collaborate more on a regional level.
Strengthening of South-South collaboration is worthwhile. It is useful for the direct partners involved, but networks must be maintained and developed further. In Asia there is more collaboration in ASEAN, and in annual public health conferences. In Africa networks are still weak, and there is a divide between English and French speaking countries.
Collaboration between regional partners often goes over the sectors, e.g. health and education, health and food security, health and social security. Mapping of country specific roles and responsibilities helps.
How can Northern universities benefit? These universities can benefit from better research design. The research conceptualisation should be informed by local partners from the field. In general, the collaboration between individual researchers from North and South is good, but on the organisational level, collaboration is difficult because the systems do not match. A problem is that many students from Southern universities going to the North are not coming back after completion of the study (in Laos, only 1 out of 3 come back!). They should be motivated to contribute to the organisational development of their home university. Solutions could be either to train more students, or to increase remuneration. Participants from Myanmar report that in their country, there is a financial incentive system to keep graduates in the public system.
Lessons and recommendations to the main conference
- Regional (South-South) collaboration between research organisations and universities becomes more and more relevant. Governments in those countries should see this as an investment, not as a cost. There should be more lobby for regional networks (that are not dependent on Northern temporary funding).
- Regional collaboration exists in:
- Research (joint research agenda), contextualisation of global research
- Training and education (joint training programmes), regional accreditation systems
- Policy development and policy evaluation (common methodology), better understand if geopolitical conditions in regions
- Universities and public health institutes in low- and middle income countries quickly develop capacities to function as equal partners of Western counterparts, but need to gain confidence to demand their rights: co-ownership, adherence to ethical standards, use of research outcomes for local policy making.
- Western universities must be open to learn from partners in the South! The South must explain effectively the reality in the field. The theory should adapt to this reality, and not the other way around.
- National and local governments need capacity building for understanding of results-based management before they can be actively involved in influencing and monitoring research.
- Funders should not come with set agendas and priorities, adhere to national research agendas, fit in country health development plans and let for information from the field influence your research design. No research conducted by foreign universities, but always co-ownership with local institutions and sharing of research outcomes.
- Make room for a system approach to research, where different (sub-) sectors are considered.
- Feeding back the research outcome to the communities should become part of the contract requirements.