Working in Concert: The East Africa Health and Scientific Conference
During the East Africa Community’s 6th Health and Scientific Conference in March, I was struck by parallels with a recent music show. During both events, the main actors paid homage to tradition while embracing innovation.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band members I saw play together, like the conference organizers, were in sync throughout, let each player highlight their strengths, and kept their focus on the output.
As with the previous EAC conference, one of the most exciting aspects was the contribution by the Guest of Honor. In this case, it was a speech by the President of Burundi, accompanied by pageantry and the attention of over 500 attendees. The President praised the country’s history and the community of states that have been meeting together to address common health problems since 2006.
A different kind of visible tribute to the past took the form of a book of abstracts on antimicrobial resistance that highlighted research carried out in East Africa during the last 30 years. The work of over 2,400 scientists dating back to 1985 was compiled to support discussion about threats faced by tougher microbes.
The compilation of abstracts also supports the conference theme: Preparedness for and Control of Disease Outbreaks, Epidemics, and Pandemics, in the Context of Climate Change, Globalization, and Gaps in Health Systems. Leading health sector players including Ministers of Health, practitioners, donors, and development partners sought to strengthen national and regional health policies and practice on these topics.
This year’s version of the conference is the first organized by the East Africa Health Research Commission (EAHRC), a relatively new EAC institution. As EAHRC’s Executive Secretary, Prof. Gibson Kibiki, shared in his welcome message, the conference falls under the Commission’s knowledge management mandate.
Another innovation I was pleased to help celebrate, was the ground-breaking publication of the inaugural edition of a journal focused on research conducted in, and relevant to, East Africa. The East African Health Research Journal (EAHRJ) is unique because it is a no-fee, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that will help support career development for scientists in the region.
Letting each player highlight their strengths
Like the Tedeschi Trucks Band, whose 12 members I watched play in unison, the conference organizers worked as a team to ensure everything went according to plan. Plenary chairs, speakers, rapporteurs, translators, and exhibitors each provided vital contributions towards the achievement of the conference goal.
Whether playing a saxophone or delivering a keynote address, a good team knows when and how to showcase world class skills. At the Conference, I was particularly impressed with Dr. Sam Okware, the Director General of the Uganda National Health Organization. Okware described the complex problems of fighting Ebola through idioms and humor, a delicate balance that held the audience’s attention.
K4Health’s technical assistance skills were employed in the lead-up to the conference to help establish the EAHRJ. K4Health’s Natalie Culbertson, the Managing Editor of Global Health: Science and Practice, helped establish the journal and publish the first issue. She also started the process of developing EAHRC’s capacity to publish the journal independently. The skills needed included: soliciting and evaluating manuscripts for quality, focus, scope, originality, and relevance, managing the peer review and revision process, and working with copyeditors and typesetters to prepare the journal for final publication.
Looking forward to next time In the same way that I am looking forward to seeing my new favorite band again, I am looking to March 2019 when the next EAC Health and Scientific conference will be held. By this time, I hope that, in concert with K4Health, EAHRC has developed dedicated knowledge management systems and staff to improve health of the people of East Africa and beyond.