During the month of September, 2011, I was a guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Norwegian Medical Association (NMA) which was celebrating 125 years of existence. This was also the 6th Conference on Global Health and Vaccination Research in Norway. There were some 250 participants from all parts of Norway and representing a variety of institutions who are active participants in the work of the NMA. I met many delegates from African countries such as Malawi, Tanzania, Sudan, Ghana, and Uganda representing Professionals Associations and other institutions in their respective countries.
he conference themes included the role of professional organizations, partnerships for capacity building in low and middle income countries for research and education, health systems and vaccination research. The topic for my key note plenary presentation was chosen by NMA and cheekily taken straight out of the motto of ACHEST namely “Building Capacities and Synergies for African Health”. I also made two other statements in breakout sessions on the Roles Professional Associations and on Medical Education. I admired what I saw and wondered how the stature and achievements NMA over the 125 years could serve as a lesson for African professional associations?
In recent studies carried out by ACHEST it was pointed out that every country needs to cultivate and grow a critical mass of individuals and institutions that interact regularly among themselves and with their governments, parliaments, and civil society as agents of change, holding each other and their governments to account, as well as providing support to the government. These institutions should maintain the visibility of population health and ensure that it features in election manifestos and that implementation of the election promises is monitored. Health Professional Associations (HPAs) are one example. One Minister of Health stated “The health professional associations were the most powerful asset and totally underutilized”. However, HPAs pointed out that they are not supported and are left out of strategic meetings whose outcomes directly affect their members. .” What then is needed to strengthen HPAs in African countries?
In my own experience, the first step is for health professionals themselves to recommit to making a new beginning in each of our countries and regions to strengthen HPAs. We should start a movement dedicated to strengthening HPAs in Africa as a strategy for delivering better health outcomes.
My favorite HPA is the Association of Surgeons of East Africa which has now morphed into the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa. In many decades as a member of this group we have achieved a lot and I have identified 7 critical success factors for an HPA in Africa: (i) fellowship and comradeship spirit needs to be strong among members, (ii) members must be willing to sacrifice their time, own money and resources, (iii) commitment to professionalism and good governance attracts, and retains members and ensures leadership succession and transition, (iv) commitment to Social Accountability to communities ensures relevance, (v) being positive and constructive in engaging governments and partners by informing and inspiring and not naming and shaming, (vi) partnerships with international HPA is vital (vii) and most important is perseverance. The first rule is “Do Not Give up”.
I would like to get your comments on the status and opportunities that you see for HPAs in Africa.