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Walking the slackline of capacity building in global health: looking ahead while learning from the past and facing today’s challenges

By GHR-CAPS blogging team
on November 13, 2015


“We, researchers from the North, need to be humble and generous. However these values are not taught in our universities. So how can we be generous in partnerships if we need to compete with one another?”  (Muriel Mac-Seing, PhD student, University of Montreal)


Over 630 participants from 46 different countries met last week in Montreal at the 22nd  Canadian Conference in Global Health, co-hosted by the Canadian Society for International Health and the Global Health Research Capacity Strengthening Program. While Montrealers were enjoying the final moments of Indian summer, fifteen remarkable plenary speakers led us through a three-day journey of rich discussions on where we have been, to the current challenges we face, to the future of capacity building for research and practice in global health.

Kicking off the conference, Gilles Dussault (Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Lisbon), Christina Zarowsky (Montreal University), Charles Godue (Human Resources consultant) and Mathildah Chithila-Munthali (National Council for Higher Education, Malawi) reminded us that capacity building in global health must be viewed within context and take local needs into account. Health systems that value their professionals and offer fair and equitable working conditions are crucial when considering capacity building for healthcare delivery. Similarly, universities must invest and develop infrastructure to train future generations of global health researchers. Finding strategies to avoid research-versus-service competition for limited resources, and creating innovative approaches for health systems to implement findings, are key challenges that need to be addressed.

Sadly, a conference on global health in 2015 could not avoid the topic of Ebola. Hossam Elsharkaw (Red Cross Canada), Steve Cornish (Doctors Without Borders) and Mandy Kader Konde (Institute of Research, Guinea) described how the response to last year’s Ebola epidemic made the gaps in global health capacity much more apparent. It was also an example of the global health community’s inability to translate lessons learned from past humanitarian crises into action. Several factors contributed to the 2014 Ebola crisis “perfect storm”: the World Health Organization and local governments downplaying the epidemic, the lack of preparedness, the limited response and lack of coordination, as well as the constant shifting of priorities. Panelists made key recommendations to avoid such disastrous crises in the future including: moving neglected diseases up on the research agenda, enhancing coordination so that teams may be more easily and quickly mobilized, and working closely with the people most affected by the epidemic to ensure responses are adapted to their needs.

The closing plenary included stimulating discussion and provocative perspectives on the future of global health. Gilles Bibeau (Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre) spoke of the need to escape the hegemony of the West and find true ways of trans-boundary knowledge exchange that values other ways of understanding the world. Duncan Pedersen (McGill University) urged for greater consideration of the broader determinants of health including the political, economical, and ecological structures that influence and shape health and well-being. He also called for the development of frameworks to guide research and funding structures that will set the stage for global social justice and equity. Nick King (McGill University) reminded us to be self-critical and to reflect on our motives for action. C. Zarowsky wrapped up the session by reminding us to acknowledge the legacy of our past and to make space for new voices to be heard, including Aboriginal and other minority communities, as well as “young” global health researchers and trainees. In closing, M. Chithila-Munthali pleaded for collective accountability that goes beyond an “us versus them” attitude and to strive to find ways to implement real and sustainable global health partnerships that can weather the unknown and provide value for money for current and future generations.

As the next generation of global health researchers, leaders and experts, we shall remember the powerful messages of last week’s plenary speakers and engage in meaningful partnerships for global health.


Picture by Fahimeh Mianji

Picture by Fahimeh Mianji

About GHR-CAPS blogging team

Federica Fregonese (University of Montreal), Emilie Robert (McGill University), Lisa Merry (University of Ottawa), Valérie Hongoh (University of Montreal), Nazmul Alam (University of Montreal), Marie Baron (Laval University)


All authors are or were fellows of the Global Health Research Capacity Strengthening Program, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Quebec Population Health Research Network and the International Development Research Center.

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