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Searching for the theme for HSR2018

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We hope your memories are still fresh from the excitement of our recent gathering in Vancouver, for those of you who were there. But some of us have already started thinking about and preparing for the next symposium, to be held in Liverpool in October 2018.

As the Programme Working Group, our task has been to think through the purpose of a symposium theme, consult widely with the constituencies that make up HSG, and propose an idea with a narrative to support it. Working closely with the Symposium Executive Committee and the Local Organizing Committee*, we concluded that the theme should serve to:

  • focus attention and motivate participation in the symposium,
  • shape the development of the symposium programme, including selection of plenary speakers and abstracts, and
  • seek to inform global debates and national health system agendas.

We wanted the theme to be inclusive of the contributions from the wide variety of disciplines and communities that make up the growing field of health policy and systems research. And the theme needed to encompass the broader field-building aim of the symposium – engaging those involved in policy and management, community mobilization, learning and teaching, as well as research. Our search for a symposium theme was shaped by these multiple and wide-ranging aspirations.

To arrive at a theme that would attract attention and interest, we consulted widely to identify a set of issues and ideas the theme should capture. We drew on the constructive feedback written on the “postcards” distributed in Vancouver; responses to an email consultation across the breadth of the HSG membership and Thematic Working Groups; a web-meeting with representatives of all the Local Organizing Committee members; and discussions with the HSG board. A first draft was reviewed and debated, refined, and reviewed one more time by the symposium Executive Committee.

We were particularly inspired by the observation that 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the Alma Ata Declaration – a major milestone in 20thcentury global public health that continues to influence efforts towards health equity. The Alma Ata signatories aspired to Health for All and identified Primary Health Care as a vehicle to achieve this. Elements of the declaration called out the particular political and economic context in which it was set, particularly the Cold War and the contributions that détente and disarmament could make to releasing resources for health and development.

However the world has changed enormously since 1978. There have been many positive changes – dramatic improvements in health, supported by expanding resources for health system development; new social movements; greater recognition of the role that gender plays in shaping the experience of both patients and health workers; a revolution in communications technology and consequent opportunities for accountability. But there are also challenges – persistent and sometimes widening disparities in health; conflict and its effects on population movement and growing numbers of refugees; climate change; diverse responses to trade and globalization; faltering aid commitments; and the new health system challenges presented by the rising incidence of non-communicable disease.

We reflected on the unfinished agenda of Alma Ata – engaging the community in health-related action, effective systems of primary care, and intersectoral action; and also the issues that a contemporary declaration would have to address – managing the private health sector, mobilizing domestic resources for health, and need for new political and social alliances for inclusive health systems. We considered the opportunities provided by the Sustainable Development Goals to push towards greater recognition of the multiple influences on health. And most importantly for our community, we recognised the critical role of health systems – as the means of providing access to effective, equitable and acceptable health services, financial protection, and the “glue” of social institutions that hold communities together.

Eventually, through debate, reflection and the contributions from a wide variety of perspectives, and aiming to encompass and engage with many of the above topics, we’ve arrived at the following: Advancing Health Systems for All in the SDG Era.

This is an important step in preparing for the HSR2018 symposium, and of course only the beginning. But we hope that this theme stimulates your interest and provokes you to start thinking about how you can contribute to the symposium. In the coming weeks, we look forward to expanding the membership of the Programme Working Group, and starting to elaborate the issues the symposium will address, work that will culminate in the Call for Abstracts in a few months’ time. We’ll keep you posted on developments.

(*) The local organising committee is made up of the 9 organisations which bid together to host the 2018 Symposium. Led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, other institutions in the consortium are Action for Global Health, the University of Edinburgh, the Faculty of Public Health, the Institute of Development Studies, the Institute for Global Health Innovation at Imperial College, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Nuffield Institute at Leeds University, Queen Margaret University and the University of Warwick.

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