Health policies and research issues regarding refugees and conflict regions

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Published: 18 Sep 2018
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Nicola Buckley - University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, Dr Mohammed Tarawneh - High health council, Amman, Jordan

Nicola Buckley and Dr Mohammed Tarawneh talk to ecancer at the R4HC meeting at King's College London about the health policies and research issues regarding refugees and conflict regions.

Ms Buckley discusses the process of working with policy fellows and Dr Tarawneh explains how it's important to share and learn form other countries.

MT: Actually this project is unique for the region, looking at the health policies and research issues regarding refugees in conflict regions. The Middle East region is suffering from a conflict since many decades and the top of these conflicts were during the last five years, starting from the Syrian crisis, before that the Iraq crisis, and Libya and Yemen so most of the countries are suffering. Thank God Jordan is out of this and we are happy to be a member of this group of countries and group of researchers who are trying to find solutions for health issues and health relations now the burden of the refugees in the hosting countries and the impact of this on health issues and totally on the economies of these countries. So trying to find innovative solutions for all of these issues is a good thing and an opportunity, an opportunity for these countries to strengthen their health systems. The programme that is hosted by King’s College here in London with the affiliation and co-operation with other international agencies like, for example, from our country the King Hussein Cancer Center and the American University of Beirut from Lebanon where people and researchers from these agencies are set together and trying to find a good solution for all of these health related issue problems.

NB: I work for the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge and we’re one of the partners in the project along with a number of other universities, like Dr Tarawneh mentioned. The Centre for Science and Policy is delivering the policy engagement strand for this project, for R4HC, and it means that we’re going to bring a group of policy Fellows from the region to the UK to have meetings with experts, academic researchers and policy makers to help answer questions that they have about health policy, non-communicable disease strategies in their countries. It could be mental health, it could be cancer policy, it could be the effect of conflict on the population because of hosting refugees and these kinds of issues. So our programme is really knowledge brokerage to make the connections both between the researchers in this project and more widely among UK academic researchers to help understand where there are gaps in knowledge, gaps in evidence, where more data might need to be collected or if there are relevant lessons, literature that can be applied to some of the policy questions that someone like Dr Tarawneh is grappling with.

What’s the process of working with the policy fellows?

NB: Whenever we have policy Fellows associated with the Centre for Science and Policy they are affiliated for two years at least and throughout this whole project we will be working. So while the programmes begin with five days spent in visiting academics in the UK, that’s just the start of engagement in the project. So there will be a chance to carry on the engagement as the project continues, finding out how the research is progressing, getting to contribute some questions and ideas into the research. But it’s very much a way of hoping that research will become applied and will be useful in the different countries involved.

MT: I’d like to add to what Nicola said, that as a member of this fellowship programme and as a policy maker in my country I think there are questions without straightforward answers that you have to look at the experience of other countries and listen, learn and try to look at the best practice regarding this question. For example, my country is now working on developing universal health coverage for Jordanians and non-Jordanians but it’s not a model that you can take from a country and do it in your country, you have to share what can add value, to look at the academic institutes and institutions where we can get more information, more knowledge and not to repeat the mistakes of others, to look at the success stories of this. Actually, also we heard from the discussion today that many areas that need to be explored and to be researched at the international level, for example mental health which is a stigma for the Eastern countries, but once you get that there were solutions from other countries and you can do this in your country. You look in depth at the question of this issue and research it to find a good resolution for all of these health issues among refugees and in the conflict region.

How has the meeting today shaped expectations of what’s to come in the future?

NB: I would say the meeting we’ve been having today, and we’ll carry on tomorrow, is very useful to get as many partners as possible around the table. It’s very helpful to hear updates from people working on the different work-streams. So we found out a little bit about what the people working on the mental health projects in Lebanon and Palestine were working on; we heard about the overall Conflict and Health group. So for us it’s a chance to meet people face to face, to understand where people’s expertise is, what kind of research they’re developing ,what kind of training programmes people are developing. So this really helps us make the necessary connections that are going to be useful between the policy makers and the researchers.

Are there opportunities for other organisations to get involved?

NB: I think that anybody who is interested should have a look at the R4HC website and sign up for the newsletter and follow on Twitter because there will be more opportunities as the project develops. So we are piloting this policy fellowships programme at the moment and we will then evaluate that and there may be further opportunities in the future. But certainly we want the learning from this project to benefit from the learning of others who have expertise. So anybody with expertise would be welcome to get in touch and then we may be able to open more opportunities in the future as well.

MT: Yes, I think that working is very important for such a project at the international level. As Nicola said, you have to share your successes with others and to look at others, what they did in this area. Many examples, for example, the World Health Organisation is a good partner that can be, and even at the national level you may find some organisations with their work. So networking is very important and this is what can be done through the website that they showed us today.