Enabling Health Research in Every Healthcare Setting
10 Years of addressing inequity in where research happens,
University of Cape Town, South Africa
How can quality health research be embedded in every healthcare setting, across all regions, income-levels and settings?
Over the course of three days, delegates grappled with this question at The Global Health Network’s inaugural conference in Cape Town, South Africa.
While The Global Health Network celebrates twelve years of connecting health researchers around the world via our digital platform, this was our first attempt to transfer the network to a large-scale, in-person event.
Featuring a comprehensive roster of specialised symposia, plenary presentations and researcher talks and posters from a diverse range of regions and career stages, the conference illustrated the value of bringing a digital network to life.
The conference kicked off Wednesday morning with our Symposia Day, featuring six exciting symposia across a wide variety of research themes and organised alongside key partners from around the world. Delegates participated in specialised presentations, in-depth Q+As and discussions, practice-driven breakout sessions, and smaller-scale networking opportunities.
Conference Day 1
“This is a unique opportunity and a unique conference because we are gathering not to share results, like many other conferences, results from one disease or two diseases. This is different. We are here to share how we do research. How we build our teams. How we transfer our know-how and build research careers and systems for research.”
Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, Director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute, opened the main proceedings of The Global Health Network Conference 2022 with a keynote address highlighting the importance of sharing methods in building capable research teams around the world. Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO), echoed these remarks in a special video address, stressing the importance of South-South collaboration in tackling local health priorities and noting that research capacity-building is crucial for both everyday disease burdens and identifying and responding to new pathogens. After some welcome remarks from The Global Health Network’s Director, Prof. Trudie Lang, the conference began its first session.
Session 1 focused on “Fostering Leadership and Building Lasting Capable Research Teams” and was chaired by Lolem B. Ngong (Amref Health Africa) with a plenary talk from Dr Vasee Moorthy, representing the research for health department of the WHO and sharing guidance from this organisation about the importance of not just global research, but also local needs-driven research “based on an understanding of what the beneficiaries in communities, in countries around the world, need”. This session featured talks on topics ranging from building interdisciplinary research capacity to the importance of methodological mentorship.
Dr Aliya Naheed (icddr,b) opened Session 2, a session on research uptake, with a plenary talk on health systems in Bangladesh and the importance of embedding skills and supporting the whole research cycle. Chaired by Prof John Reeder (WHO), talks in this session included presentations on implementing tobacco control strategies in India and achieving improved access to youth-friendly sexual reproductive health and rights services in Nigeria.
Session 3 covered the topic of “Enabling Health Research in Every Healthcare Setting,” chaired by Dr Sally Nicholas (Wellcome) with a plenary talk on the EDCTP research-building programmes across Africa by Dr Tom Nyirenda (EDCTP). Talks in this session featured case studies on how to build research skills, networks, surveillance sites, counter antimicrobial resistance, and more in low-resource settings.
The day ended with Session 4, which was chaired by Dr Mahesh Maskey (Nepal Public Health Foundation) and explored community engagement in health research. A plenary talk by Dr Gustavo Matta (Fiocruz) covered the role of community, especially women, in Brazil’s response to the Zika outbreak, and the talks that followed explored a range of methods for community engagement, including community health worker programmes, participatory arts-based approaches, and school engagement programmes.
Following brief closing remarks from Prof John Reeder and a group photo outside Sarah Baartman Hall, the delegates headed to the Moyo Restaurant in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. There, attendees enjoyed a celebratory dinner with drinks, music and dancing, set against the backdrop of Table Mountain.
Conference Day 2
Day 2 of the conference opened with the exciting announcement that The Global Health Network has been granted status as a WHO collaborating centre. Additionally, Prof John Reeder, Prof Trudie Lang, and The Global Health Network’s Resource Manager, Samuel Driver, introduced a new, streamlined research framework and accompanying digital app being developed in collaboration with both organisations that will make it easier for researchers across a variety of settings and experience levels to receive guidance, develop and conduct research studies.
After this presentation, the day’s scientific sessions began with Session 5 on “Improving Health Research Methods and Processes”. Prof Trudie Lang’s plenary talk focused on the importance of building a “whole ecosystem of research” for both preexisting diseases and emerging threats, using the work of The Global Health Network as a case study. Chaired by Dr Hector H. Garcia (Center for Global Health, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia), the session included talks on participatory visual methods, digital technology and automating clinical data management as tools to improve research methods.
Opening Session 6 with the reminder that “research is key to our collective survival,” Dr John Amuasi’s (KCCR-KNUST) plenary talk set the stage for a series of presentations on “Preventing Pandemics with Responsive Research Systems”. Chaired by Prof Cristiani Vieira Machado (Fiocruz), these talks offered insight into the value of ethical governance, regulatory oversight, research training, multicomponent intervention, human-centred design and more to pandemic response.
Conversations on methodological interventions continued into Session 7, which was devoted to “Generating New Evidence from Data Related to Health”. Dr Amel Ghouila (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) chaired the session and noted in her introduction that the talks would offer a diversity of perspectives on how data can be used to guide evidence and policy on the ground. Dr Bilal Mateen (Wellcome) offered one such perspective in his opening remarks, arguing that not only were representative data sets necessary for improving equity in computational science but also "more people from more diverse backgrounds in the room where research is happening”. In her plenary talk, Prof. Nicola Mulder (Computational Biology Division, University of Cape Town) shared her experiences building bioinformatics capacity for public health research on the African continent, and the five talks that followed offered various cases illustrating the importance of such data science capacity, ranging from maternal and child health in Brazil and adolescent pregnancy in Ghana to viral load suppression in children and adolescents with HIV in Uganda.
Special Session: Women in Research Panel
The final session of the conference convened a special panel discussion on the personal and professional experiences of Women in Research. Chaired by Dr Iris Mwanza (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), the panel featured Dr Lyda Osorio (Universidad Del Valle), Prof. Cristiani Vieira Machado (Fiocruz), Dr Aliya Naheed (icddr,b), Prof.Thumbi Ndung’u (Africa Health Research Institution), Dr Alice S Lakati (Amref Health Africa) and Katherine Littler (WHO). Dr Mwanza opened the session by announcing the launch of the Women in Global Health Research community of practice on The Global Health Network and emphasising the need to “accelerate our goals in gender equity” not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because better equity in health research creates “better health outcomes for all of us”.
Dr Osorio spoke of her struggle balancing professional advancement and motherhood, a struggle she did not witness her male partner experiencing, thus highlighting the gendered burden of care that puts women at a professional disadvantage. Shifting the conversation from personal to institutional issues, Prof. Machado explained the specific challenges of improving gender equity in countries like Brazil, where gender is intersected with other inequalities like income, class, and race such that comprehensive policy change and affirmative action are necessary across several different areas. Dr Naheed noted that the conditions are similar in Asia and highlighted the importance of early intervention and supporting girls to pursue science and education at a young age while also mentoring young female health researchers once they reach theearly stages of their careers. Moving to the Africa region, Dr Lakati described how Amref considered equity in access to health education when building the strategic plan for the new Amref International University in Kenya, including a dedicated scholarship fund for girls and communities who lack access to health sciences training. Dr Ndung’u, the only male representative on the panel, echoed the emphasis on using policy and systems to enact change, noting that “good intentions are never enough.” Finally, Katherine Littler shared her thoughts working for the WHO on health research governance and ethics, noting that inclusion, and thus gender equity, is itself an ethical issue and one that can only be implemented by training both ethics review committees and researchers themselves on gender inclusivity.
The Global Health Network Conference 2022 concluded with a look to the future.
As network members from around the world filled the stage behind them, key regional leaders Dr Elvis Temfack, Prof. Cristiani Vieira Machado, and Dr Aliya Naheed officially announced the launch of The Global Health Network Africa, The Global Health Network Latin America and the Caribbean, and The Global Health Network Asia. The establishment of these three Global South networks transfers leadership and coordination of The Global Health Network to local centres, allowing regional teams to make fit-to-person decisions and solutions based on local need.
Prof Vieira Machado closed the conference with the exciting announcement that the next The Global Health Network conference would be held in Latin America in 2024.
With the stage full of partners from around the world, hailing from Argentina to Uganda, it was clear to see that The Global Health Network is as much of a vital and thriving community in person as it is online.
Throughout the conference, this translation of online networks to in-person collaboration was facilitated by three days of impactful presentations, small-group symposia discussions, and most importantly, the development of informal relationships so vital to the knowledge-sharing and capacity-building goals that remain core to the mission and future of The Global Health Network.
We are grateful to all who attended and shared their time, knowledge and passion and helping shape the future of global health research by improving equity in where health research happens, who leads, and who benefits.