Supporting Public Health Institutes Programme - SPHIP

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Triangular Learning for strengthening Universal Health Coverage

In the Support to Public Health Institutes Programme (SPHIP), research institutes in eight low- and lower middle- income countries work together in networks with universities and non-governmental organisations from Europe as well as neighbouring low- and lower middle- income countries. The idea is that institutes can learn from other partners in the South and that organisations in the North can learn as well. This leads to innovative approaches in capacity building for policy development and implementation to strengthen Universal Health Coverage.


The National Laboratory for Public Health in Haiti developed a new national public health laboratory policy with the Mérieux Foundation in Lyon, France, and with the African Institute for Public Health in Burkina Faso. Lessons learned from West Africa could be used to formulate this policy in a short period of time, and have it accepted by the Ministry of Health. The University of Health Sciences in Vientiane, Lao PDR, developed together with the University of Public Health in Hanoi, Vietnam, and the NGO MCNV a new internationally accredited Master of Public Health, using the experiences and teaching methods from the neighbouring country. Makerere School of Public Health in Uganda worked in close collaboration with the Human Science Research Council in Pretoria, South Africa, and with the Institute for Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium, to apply and improve the Policy Implementation Barometer, developed in South Africa.  This improved instrument can now be used in South Africa again. The University of Public Health in Yangon, Myanmar, benefits from collaboration with HelpAge International and Thammasat University in Thailand in organisational and educational issues (e.g. e-library, research management). Without much adaptation, The University of Public Health can implement university systems developed in the Region.


The triangular learning is more than networking or exchange: it is jointly engaging in long-term projects that lead to tangible results. This makes the collaboration more profound and more fruitful than other types of interaction. It provides benefits for all institutions involved and therefore goes further than the traditional North-South capacity building. The reciprocity, from which also Northern partners benefit, is also an expression of the state of maturity of many institutions in low- and middle income countries, that have reached a high level of experience. In the SPHIP programme, in many projects, the Regional exchange has been a key to success.    


It is time to recognise that experiences in strengthening health systems from Southern countries can be more relevant for low- and middle income countries than theories developed in the Western world.  It is time to make triangular learning an integrated part of development and cooperation, replacing traditional North-South capacity building projects.


Triangular learning at European Public Health conference in Stockholm, 2017

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Javier Burgos
18 September 2018

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