Dear Colleagues,

Japan (or more specifically its nuclear reactors) got plenty of attention this week. The nuclear issue is back with a bang on the world agenda. The human devastation and potential economic fall-out of this triple earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster are so huge that some Asian countries already fear a drop in Japanese aid. There’s also a debate going on about aid to Japan though. Luckily, the international community last night also decided to take action with regards to Libya. Better late than never, once can say – and it proves democratic pressure sometimes works. There’s no way Obama could have let Khaddafi bomb Benghazi without suffering a credibility problem for the rest of his presidency. Too bad Hu Jintao is not in the same position (yet). Now let’s see whether the people who matter in this world will do the same with respect to Ivory Coast.   Don’t hold your breath. Maybe we will have to count on Hillary Clinton here, who emphasized this week she won’t be Secretary of State anymore after 2012. Apparently she also gave up on the idea of becoming President. Meanwhile, the Economist features an assessment of the future of Obama’s Health care plan in this week’s issue.

Two important global health conferences took place this week. Colleagues of us attended the events in Seattle, US, and Saly, Senegal. In Seattle, Richard Horton gave the closing speech at the Global Health Metrics and Evaluation Conference. Humanosphere reports:  “What’s weird, he says, is that the center of gravity in global health research is increasingly shifting away from the traditional multilateral institutions of public health based in Europe (like the WHO?) and is increasingly dominated by American academic institutions (like the Gates Foundation-funded Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation here inSeattle?). While the quality of the American research is to be celebrated, Horton urged that the global health community come together to establish priorities and agree on how to evaluate progress. … More importantly, he seemed to be asking the global health community to collaborate on strengthening the traditional, multilateral international public health institutions now under threat of further erosion and loss of influence. Though he didn’t name names, it sounded like Horton is worried that too much of the global health agenda is being set in Seattle.“ In his weekly Offline Lancet article, Horton also made a few other interesting comments.  “Last week Peter Piot, the new Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, circulated a bravely honest appraisal of what he called his “first trimester” at one of the world’s leading research-based higher education institutions. Having climbed onto the roof of the School, he had perhaps gained a clearer view of its predicaments. “I am deeply optimistic about our future”, he concluded. But “the bottom line is that we will have to compete for shrinking higher education and research budgets in the UKfor years to come.” There is a “drastic global power shift” in science, funding has likely reached its peak, and the “very serious challenges” faced by universities “could become a crisis if not well handled”. The dangers facing institutions such as the LSHTM are a tendency to look inwards, complacency, and lack of focus. Peter’s conclusion was refreshingly direct: “I perceive a sense of denial about the seriousness of the current funding crisis.” And further in the same article: “Vikram Patel, the new professor of international mental health at the LSHTM, in his inaugural lecture, fused science and human rights in a plea to see mental health as one of the most vital issues in global health today. The abuses perpetrated in the name of mental health are nothing less than failures of humanity. Mental health matters because it is about a vision of equity—a balance between the mind and the health of the body. To achieve that balance demands a judicious mix of medicine, culture, and political action. This, I think, is the kind of vision for a school of public health that Peter Piot is seeking.”

Yesterday also saw the closing of the AfHEA conference in Saly, Senegal.Palm Beach Hotel was the venue – David and some other colleagues were fortunate enough to attend the event J Here’s David’s preliminary feedback: “This three day conference has been an opportunity for health economists and health policy experts working in (or on) Africa to present their work to peers. It was also a good opportunity to get an overview of current priorities in the region. We heard for example a lot of concern about the effectiveness of free care policies that have been adopted in many countries and an urgent  call to tackle those problems. A community of practice among peers involved in this kind of free care policy like the one which has been launched recently is therefore more than welcome.”

Enjoy your reading.

David Hercot, Kristof Decoster, Josefien Van Olmen, Basile Keugong & Wim Van Damme

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