Mid-afternoon, week-II of the Emerging Voices for Global Health program, I look at the participants around me at the 2016 Emerging Voices for Global Health (EV4GH) and notice that a policymaker who just arrived and I are the only ones from the Middle East and North African (MENA) region
The limited participation from the MENA region is intriguing given a large number of researchers, policymakers and health workers from other regions present here. While there were over 200 applications to the EV4GH programme this year, only about five were from the MENA region.
There are several theories about why this might be so. Some of the organisers and the participants of the EV4GH programme feel that the limited participation from the region might be because of visa-related issues. This might be true in the case of those whose their visas were rejected (in this instance, applicable to one person). Others feel it may be cause of a lack of interest in health policy and systems research (HPSR) from the MENA region. However, I feel that is not really the case.
There are some universities, institutions and organisations from the MENA region that are interested, working on and leading research on health policy and systems in MENA. Examples include the American University of Beirut (AUB)’s Center for Systematic Reviews on Health Policy and Systems Research (SPARK) which has recently been appointed as the General Secretariat for the Global Evidence Synthesis Initiative (GESI). Other institutions include the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) that is one of the leading think-tanks in the MENA. MERI is dedicating a significant portion of its work to HPSR. In addition to the examples mentioned above, there are many other researchers and academic institutions which are producing a growing body of literature on health policy and systems in the MENA region. A relatively recent article attempted to compile a list of such literature. Last, but not least, there is a Public Health in the Arab World (PHAW) listserv that is dedicated to announcing, publicising and discussing public health related issues in the region.
So if it is not the lack of institutions, researchers and interest, what then explains that there has essentially been no participation from the MENA region in the EV4GH programme thus far?
It seems that one of the main reasons has been the lack of publicity for the EV4GH programme in MENA. None of the major institutions, think-tanks and organisations in MENA announced the call for application for the programme. The EV4GH programme was never announced on the PHAW listserv either. Meetings, webinars or seminars which target researchers and policymakers in MENA were never conducted. Those who knew about the programme and applied to attend did so through word of mouth rather through an organisation.
The lack of participation from the MENA region is a substantial opportunity cost for the region. The EV4GH provides a rich opportunity for researchers in MENA to present their work. Such exposure is crucial particularly within the context of what is going on in the region at the moment. The theme of the fourth Global Symposium on Health Systems and Policy Research is strongly connected to the issues on conflict – an issue that the area continues to grapple with. As a current EV4GH participant from MENA, I make a commitment to spreading the word on this programme among my colleagues from the region. Hopefully more researchers will represent MENA in the next edition of the Emerging Voices for Global Health.