Health systems research as a discipline requires continuous interaction between researchers, policy makers, health service managers and service providers. For health systems research to have a practical impact, such interaction has to be nurtured from the planning stages and sustained through to the utilisation of research findings, taking into account all the factors that might encourage or impede this process.
Traditionally, the aim of the annual Health Systems Trusts conference (organised by the Research department) is to provide a platform for HST-funded researchers to subject their work to both peer review and comments from health services managers. However, the 7th HST conference had an additional focus. Lessons emanating from implementation of the district health system formed, for the first time, an integral part of the conference. Informing policies and facilitating the implementation of various programmes remain key aspects of the work of the HST. These were also reflected in the conference theme - Informing Policy and Programmes .
The first day of the conference was largely devoted to sharing both research and intervention-linked lessons on progress with district health system development. An overview of an international experience on how to turn policy into successful action provided a broad context within which local experiences were shared. Progress in, as well as challenges posed by, district health systems were highlighted.
Acquisition and management of resources are integral components of district health system development. Presentations on a range of management and support systems issues were shared. These included experiences with the implementation of various training programmes for district based health care workers. Issues around support systems such as drug management were also explored.
Progress with the implementation of PHC programmes was the focus of the second day of the conference. Studies presented in this regard reiterated the importance of strengthening institutional structures and the administrative capacity of health workers as bases for implementation of prorgammes. The implementation of a TB programme in the Northern Cape for example was found to be hinged on organisational and structural issues viz. training and support of staff and information systems. Similarly impediments to the operation of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996 in some provinces were found to include problems with referral systems as well as non-operation of designated facilities.
The aim of the annual HST conference is changing. Although initially it was a showcase for researchers funded by HST, it is now becoming a platform for researchers to interact with health managers and planners, in the hope that this will stimulate the process of getting research into action. We hope that the conference will continue to act as a catalyst in this process.
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