International Conference on Health Policy Research

The 6th International Conference on Health Policy Research took place from 23rd – 25th May 2016 in Jerusalem. The conference theme was “Health policy: from local experience to global patterns and back again”. There were several British participants in the meeting including two of the organisers (Dr Balabanova and Prof McKee). The recent review of Israeli medical education (in which Profs Crome and Katz participated) was also discussed.

Dr Fiona Sim (former London President, and a member of the Myers Brookdale Health Advisory Committee) attended the Jerusalem Conference on Health Policy in May 2016.

She reported:

“There were several hundred delegates, including more than a dozen from the UK, including some of our most eminent health policy and health services research academics. The US was generously represented, and we were told by Prof Orly Manor, Chairman of the Board of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research, which sponsors the Conference that there were representatives of 43 countries present. In her welcoming address Orly spoke about the medical history of the area, including that Moses Montefiore’s personal physician, Dr Thomas Hodgkin [1798-1866; as in lymphoma], is buried in Yafo.

The plenary presentations were mainly excellent, and overall the standard in parallel sessions was every bit as good as other top quality international conferences I have attended.

We heard from Israel’s new Director General of the Ministry of Health, Moshe Bar Simon Tov, who summarised Israel’s demography. Israel’s over 75 population is growing at five thousand per annum. In healthcare, he emphasised the diversity of both workforce and patients, as reflected in the routine care of elderly Holocaust survivors alongside wounded Syrians in the Northern Israeli hospitals. He also pointed out that Israel spend 7.5% GDP on health, compared with the OECD average of 8.9%. Israel is clearly pleased to be included in the OECD.

Regarding healthcare specifically, Moshe described the notably short length of stay in Israel, possibly reflective in part at least of good after care, which is a well-known stumbling block for the NHS. He also mentioned Israeli “big data” – the largest Israeli Kupat Cholim (Health Plan), Clalit, apparently has the biggest medical database in the world. Not only does that offer great opportunities for health research, but also maybe it is something to show to our NHS leaders, before the next massive speculative investment in information technology? .

Other plenary speakers included Martin McKee (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK), Patricia Shaw (University of Hertfordshire, UK), Christian Lovis (Switzerland), David Hunter (Durham University, UK), Victor Rodwin (New York University, USA) and Peter Smith (Imperial College London UK). Perhaps the lightest comment was the cautionary lesson about carelessly attributing causation to correlations – Christian Lovis gleefully told us that there is a strong correlation between countries with high chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel Prize winners: did I say he came from Switzerland?!

Between sessions, and even during them, as well as over lunch or coffee, or while peering at ePosters, there were lots of opportunities for networking. The atmosphere was very sociable, English was the common language and there were many new contacts to be made. During a social event at the Israel Museum, for example, I met a Vietnamese dentist who had completed her Masters in Public Health at the Hebrew University the previous year, and had returned to meet her tutors and other former students at the Conference, as well as to present her dissertation findings at a session.   I asked her why she had chosen Israel to study and it seems she just fancied the idea, and her country had sponsored her to do so. Two young men from the US were studying medicine at Tel Aviv University Medical School  – one of the dedicated courses in Israel that are taught in English solely for overseas students, who are expected to leave Israel when they graduate.

The final plenary session took us away from health policy completely. We welcomed Professor Eliezer Rabinovici, a physicist from the Hebrew University, who has been heavily involved for 20 years in an international collaboration, SESAME*, building a CERN-like synchrotron in Jordan. He emphasised the nature of the project, which relied on total trust between scientists from all over the world and, in particular, between scientists from several unlikely collaborating countries – including Iran, Jordan, Turkey and Israel. As he reminded us, at its inception, the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had “taken politics out of science” in order for the collaboration to flourish.

Having attended the 5th International Conference three years ago, I had already experienced the dynamic of the meeting and the Israeli attitude to overseas visitors: along with the general good mood and friendliness, there was a widespread assumption that if you were attending the Conference from overseas, unless you had an obviously Jewish name or visible identifier (such as a Yarmulke!), you would not be Jewish. So, whilst as a tourist I had never recognised this phenomenon, at the Conference it became the norm to bring into conversation that yes, you had visited Israel many times before, that you had relatives living in Netanya {or wherever} and yes, that you were able to read / understand / speak {as applicable} Ivrit – and maybe some Yiddish for good measure. At the 5th Conference, I jokingly explained this experience to an Israeli delegate, whose advice was that I should go and buy a Magen David pendant and wear it prominently around my neck to make life easier for the Israelis!

The 7th International Jerusalem Conference will take place in 2019.  Overall, the standard is high and the Conference offers the opportunity to Israel to showcase some of the high quality research being undertaken there, to share the comparative achievements in terms of health outcomes and the inclusion of speakers from diverse communities in Israel, the PA and around the world.  I would very much like to encourage expansion of the UK contingent in attendance at the next Conference”.

*SESAME, the Synchroton Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, was recently described in more detail in an article which appeared in the Time Higher Educational Supplement which can be accessed here.

Published in General News, Previous Events, on January 6th, 2017


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