I am suffering from what I hope is a rare condition. It is post-conference blues and it is strange that I should be suffering from this condition given that I have not been to that many international conferences. Symptoms of this condition alternate between euphoria (thinking of what could be) and depression (seeing what really is). Let me tell you more.
The Prince Mahidol Award Conference (PMAC 2012) held in Thailand was extremely well organised and well run. The overall atmosphere showed meticulous planning and execution. The use of panel discussions during sessions as well as the emphasis on case studies made for engaging and stimulating debate and discussion. I left Bangkok inspired and encouraged but I landed in the harsh reality of a recovering health system in Zimbabwe. This got me thinking about the chances of achieving universal health coverage (UHC) and the usefulness of conferences. Hence the post conference blues.
In the few conferences I have attended the presentations, debate and discussions have focused mainly on what works (or has worked). Maybe this is as it should be .Wouldn’t it be more useful though if we spoke more about what didn’t work and why, so we don’t repeat the mistakes others have made or at least learn what not to do. This kind of thinking may not get me invited to any more conferences! However I speak for the person on the ground that has to deal with the reality of dysfunctional health systems and difficult socio-economic and political conditions, significant barriers to the achieving of UHC and global health for all.
For me the most electrifying information was that Health is political (Prof David Sanders at PMAC 2012 in the side session Mobilising for Health: Challenging Power Relations). So, all health workers and health professionals are politicians! Well, in a manner. With my excitement of this insight also came the dread of the knowledge that politics in our part of the world is dangerous and potentially fatal. So how do I practice medicine or advocate for UHC and remain apolitical. Is it even possible?
There are many more barriers to achieving global health that could discourage young professionals like me. What keeps me going is the paraphrase from the late great American President John F. Kennedy – We do not want to achieve UHC (and global health) because it is easy. We want to achieve it because it is hard. This statement states the goal, acknowledges the challenges and reaffirms commitment all in one. My suggestion is we start by finding a way to carry over the inspiration and excitement of really good conferences such as PMAC 2012 into the real world of everyday health policy and practice.