Establishment of the Regional Global Health Alliance Eastern Europe - Central Asia, which will serve as an institutional mechanism for regional cooperation in the field of global health. The equal co-founding partners of the Alliance are NaUKMA and Universitetet I Tromsoe - Norges Arktiske Universitet, Norway, Universitetet I Bergen, Norway, Institute of Global Health, Georgia, The University of Georgia, Georgia, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Georgia, Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University, Georgia, Ivan Horbachevsky Ternopil National Medical University, Ukraine, JSC Astana Medical University, Kazakhstan, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Kazakhstan.
Building Academic Capacity in Global Health in the
Eastern Europe-Central Asia Region (BACE)
Objective 3/Activity 2.3.1:
Workshop to Conceptualize the EECA Regional Alliance for Global Health
Held online on Feb 18-19, 2021
Hosted by University of Bergen
On February 18-19, 2021 the first meeting under Objective 3 was held to conceptualize the Eastern Europe Central Asia Regional Global Health Academic Alliance (the Alliance). The meeting was conducted online due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID19 pandemic. It was organized and hosted by the University of Bergen (UiB), supported by the Tbilisi Institute of Global Health (TIOGH). All project participant Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) were represented by senior level faculty members. Additionally, UiB invited representatives of the Norwegian Forum for Global Health Research (NFGHR), Global Health Norway (GHN) and the Norwegian School of Global Health Research (NSGHR) to share the experiences of establishing global health collaborative partnerships in Norway. The full list of participants is attached as Annex 1. Agenda is attached in Annex 2. Presentations are attached in Annex 3.
On the first day of the meeting the participants learnt about how various types of global health partnerships have been established and are operating in Norway.
Bente Moen, Nils Gunnar Songstad and Jon Øivind Odland presented the NFGHR, overviewed the history of its establishment and shared the experiences that can be considered for establishing the EECA Regional Academic Alliance. The structure, main activities and current challenges of the NFGHR as well as membership opportunities and board election process were described. NFGHR was initiated in 2006 and revisions in its statute and membership were made in 2017 as a result of the establishment of GHN - a national network for research, education, capacity building in global health. NFGHR aims to improve the knowledge exchange and collaboration in GH research among Norwegian institutions and to disseminate GH knowledge to the Government; promotes collaboration on GH issues among research institutions, government and NGO sector; contributes to international processes and initiatives in the field of GH and health research; is the forum for development of evidence-based policy; keeps an inventory of research activities and resources; and organizes national conferences on GH research. At the same time, NFGHR actively advocates for increased investments in GH research with the objective to reduce the 10/90 gap of research funding in Norway and internationally. Currently, NFGHR represents Norway in the Federation of European Societies for Tropical Medicine and International Health (FESTMIH). The speakers highlighted importance of close collaboration with policy-makers at the national level in order to implement GH agenda in different policies
The presentations were followed by a discussion, during which participants explored the financial, political, partnership and other contexts in which NFGHR was founded and how they compare with the context of establishing the EECA Alliance. The participants emphasized the fact that NFGHR was founded by the Research Council of Norway, which also provided stable funding for its initial operations. Different types of membership (individual vs. institutional) as well as different types of governance and management approaches were also discussed. Attention was paid to financial sustainability issues of the Alliance as well. The speakers shared their experience and suggested that the members’ commitment is critical factor in the process of Alliance building.
Elin Yli Dvergsdal presented the Global Health Norway - the national platform that brings together academic and non-academic stakeholders for collaboration on global health issues. She described the three pillars of the GHN - research, education and capacity building and outlined the objectives and functions of each. Established in 2017, GHN connects many active research and educational groups in Norway, avoids unnecessary competition among them for funding and finds synergies in projects by collaborating in the same countries. Gradually building on the investments already made, GHN ensures better links between health care system, universities, private institutes and businesses. The activities for the ongoing year were also presented including several conferences for young scientists and the participants were encouraged to take part in them. Participants inquired about the linkages between NFGHR and GHN, about the role of the GHN Secretariat in day-to-day management of its operations, as well as the role of its Governance Board, to inform the thinking about structuring the Secretariat and the Board of the EECA Alliance. Questions were also raised about the role of the Norwegian private sector and industry and GHN stakeholders.
Elisabeth Darj presented the Norwegian Research School of Global Health, including the history of its establishment and the aims. The speaker highlighted that the research school is mainly focused on strengthening the quality of PhD education in GH and recruits young researchers in the field. Main activities and functioning of the board and its members were described. The ways of communication and visibility was explained (web-pages, social media, blogs, newsletters for members etc.) as well. The presenter spoke about the educational and network gathering activities for young researchers including courses on different GH topics, annual conferences, local network meetings, supervision seminars and etc. Participants expressed interest in the PhD annual conferences organized and suggested about the potential involvement of the Norwegian global health PhD researchers' engagement in the EECA Alliance's annual regional meetings. Several new courses offered by the School also generated interest, particularly on Scientific Writing, Systematic Review, Technological Innovations for Global Health Research. It was mentioned that the three program countries participating in this project, as well as other EECA countries possess significant data on various aspects of global health, but lack capacities in research methodology and practical skills in scientific writing to properly analyze and publish the data. Such courses would certainly be beneficial, and since the BACE project is limited to developing only two research methodology courses, it is worth exploring the possibilities for including additional courses to the Global Health Academies planned by the BACE project.
At the end of the first day, George Shakarishvili presented a framework for establishing the EECA Regional Alliance, as the starting point for discussion on the second day of the workshop. He unpacked several key concepts to help participants harmonize their understanding in order to more effectively pursue the establishment of the EECA Academic Alliance for Global Health. The presentation overviewed the thematic scope of the new Alliance (i.e. what do we understand by global health), its geographic scope (i.e. what countries are included in the EECA region and in the broader Eurasia region, which should be targeted by the new Alliance), and the functional scope (i.e. how do we understand the terms - 'academic' and 'alliance' and how they should be applied to the new entity founded by the BACE project. Participants were provided with suggestions about the possible objectives and functions of the new Alliance. Finally, the Tbilisi Institute of Global Health (TIOGH) was briefly introduced, since it will serve as the Alliance's Secretariat during the first three years.
On the second day participants learnt about the Federation of European Societies for Tropical Medicine and International Health (FESTMIH) and legal aspects of NFGHR. In general, the second day was more interactive including working in small groups followed by discussions.
Esther Jurgens, FESTMIH coordinator presented the FESTMIH, which represents European network for promoting research and training in tropical medicine. FESTMIH includes 16 members: national societies and networks/platforms in GH and tropical medicine. The presenter spoke about organizational structure, mission, strategic dimensions and activities. She highlighted challenges they have been facing - including financial sustainability, identification/rearrangement of priorities and combined focus. The speaker reviewed the strategic plan and several key dimensions of it, including institutional development, research promotion and dissemination as well as partnership building and mobilization of professionals. The presenter also mentioned that FESTMIH membership is open to national societies and platform active in GL and tropical medicine and highlighted that members’ financial and non-financial commitments are very important for the Federation to remain functional. The presentation was followed by discussion during which the participants expressed interests in the FESTMIH protocols, statutes and constitution. Since the Federation has international scope, and the Alliance is going to be the regional network, sharing Federation’s experience and legal documents would be useful. The participants also discussed types of memberships (e.g. identification to what type of membership should be relevant) and how to ensure that the members remain active (important role of communication – newsletter, web-site and etc.).
The second presentation was about Governance structure of NFGHR and GHN presented by Dr. Nils Gunnar Songstad. Information related to the establishment, legal status and constitution was described, which included the name, purpose, membership, governance structure, function and activities. The speaker focused on the main issues and aspects that should be considered while establishing a new Alliance. Potential challenges in functioning of similar networks were discussed following to the presentation. Maintaining members and ensuring effective communication between the network and the target audience were listed as the most challenging part of the work. Funding issues of NFGHR were also discussed. Since the Forum is not legal entity, funds come through the member universities.
After the above presentations the participants were divided into 4 groups to discuss more substantively the following two questions
- What should be aim of the EECA GH Alliance?
- What should be the main topics/research areas of GH?
The group 1 included participants from National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine and Astana Medical University, Kazakhstan. According to them Alliance should focus on three main and one additional priority:
The main category:
- Formation of the official partnership – clear identification of the Alliance aim, vision, governance structure, membership, activities and cooperation format.
- Education – establishment of joint educational programs for bachelors, masters, PhD as well as development of separate courses for different thematic categories, certificate programs, summer/winter schools, joint research cooperation for PhD students/young scientists.
- Science – development of joint scientific programs in the EECA region, including joint grant applications on common health and epidemiological problems. Encouragement of publications in scientific journals, scientific conferences etc.
The additional category:
- Communication strategy - PR of the Alliance, image creation, promotion of the Alliance activities not only among students and researchers, but also among other stakeholders (e.g. policy-makers, academic and scientific institutions).
The group 2 included participants from Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU), Kazhakhstan and Tbilisi Institute of Global Health. They formulated the following goals of the Alliance:
- Development cooperation for sharing national health data, experiences and knowledge in GH
- Building strong academic and scientific network and cooperation in GH
- Promotion and advocacy of GH at the national and regional level
The group 3 that included participants from Tbilisi State medical University, University of Georgia and Ternopil State medical University came up with the following priorities:
1. Aim of the Regional Alliance:
- Collaboration for the Promotion of Global Health education and research; advance knowledge.
- Platform for Universities (Academia), NGOs, Civil Society organisations and all stakeholders.
2. Considerations for future:
- Sustainability of the Alliance; long-term funding opportunities
- Regional context - Countries within region may be in a different phase in terms of Global Health development. We need to make sure that values and mission are equally shared among all members.
The group 4 included participants from National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, University of Georgia and Tbilisi Institute of Global health. They formulated the aim and future priorities of the Alliance in the following way:
- Promote education and research in Global Health
- Active involvement in GH advocacy activities with national policy-makers and other stakeholders.
- Popularization of global health among public health students in order to strengthen their interest and involvement in GH courses
Considerations for the nearest future (expectations for the next 3 years):
- Make foundation for long-term human resource capacity building in GH
- Start active collaboration on GH issue among the Alliance members and develop joint research projects in GH
- Develop academic courses in GH and ensure students involvement.
The following main topics/research areas of GH were identified by the groups as priorities:
- Infectious control
- Life in Post-Covid-19 time
- Environmental, social-economic issues and their effects on population’s health
- Infectious diseases
- Environmental pollution
- HIV infection
- Modern viral infections (e.g. Covid-19)
· Reproductive, Maternal and Child health.
· Migration and health
- Migration and health
- Infectious diseases
- Mental health during and after Covid-19 pandemic
Additionally, the following topics were highlighted during the discussion: Non-communicable diseases (e.g. sedentary life style), urbanization – rural to urban migration, climate change and health and etc. The participants agreed that they need to identify specific researchable topics beneficial for all participating countries. They talked about different contexts of the countries that should be taken into account while deciding topics for future joint researches. Discussion also covered the challenges related to needs of improving skills of representatives of the participating universities to publish research paper in peer-reviews scientific journals in English. TropEd was introduced to the participants as an opportunity to attend various courses and at the same time, propose new courses on GH that are specifically suited to EECA region.
- March – May: Based on the materials reviewed at the workshop and the partners’ feedback received, UiB and TIOGH will draft the Statutes for the new EECA Regional GH Alliance, which will serve as the basis for its establishment. Based on needs during this period, the UiB/TIOGH writing group may engage selected partners for consultations.
- May-June: Partner HEIs will receive the draft documents by May 15, 2021 and will have 3 weeks to provide comments to the writing group.
- June: On June 24 (date TBC) a follow-up meeting will be held to approve the documents and to formally launch the Alliance.