Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Our Woman in Havana

Presenting at the Global Forum for Health Research held at the Palacio de Convenciones in Havana, Cuba.

So I'm not a spy, but I did have what will likely be a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Havana, Cuba. I recently attended the Global Forum for Health Research, which I was able to do as a U.S. citizen under a general license to attend a professional meeting organized by an international organization.

Because of the work that Research!America does tracking the U.S. investment in health research, we were invited to participate in a day-long meeting that brought together other experts in the field of tracking resources for health research. I have been studying the U.S. investment in health research for more than five years now, so it was interesting to meet others from around the world doing similar work. The participants came from a variety of backgrounds with a range of perspectives about tracking health research resources. Some—like Research!America—focused on country-level spending, others looked at disease-specific research and still others took a more global view.

I think one thing that all of the meeting attendees could agree on is that tracking investments in health research, and specifically research for global health, is a challenge and that more information about what is being spent on research for health around the world is needed. As is often the case in meetings like this, more questions than answers were generated. Some of the key questions include:
  • What is the definition of research? Should infrastructure, salaries, capital investments and other research enabling activities be included?
  • Is there a difference between “health research” and “research for health?”
  • Which countries/organizations are tracking health research investments?
  • How can we establish guidelines for cross-country comparisons of their investments in health research?
  • How can this data be most effectively used for advocacy?
  • Should methodology differ when the data will be used in advocacy?

In addition to this meeting, I also had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion titled “Who’s Investing and Who Cares?” that was moderated by New England Journal of Medicine Editor-in-Chief, Jeffrey Drazen, MD. I shared our data on the U.S. investments in health research and global health research, some of our public opinion polling that shows that Americans do care about the issue and information about Research!America’s Paul G. Rogers Society for Global Health Research.

Attending the Global Forum for Health Research also allowed me to meet an interesting array of people from around the world, all working in some way on global health, and to learn more about topics outside the realm of my day-to-day work, such as product development partnerships, incentives for global health research and the Cuban health system. Much more to come in my post tomorrow about the travel experience, Cuba and photos from a brief tour of Havana.

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