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The Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) once again shows that academia’s contributions go far beyond education and generating knowledge. Guided by research and effective partnerships with key stakeholders and particularly the public sector, these contributions are serving to improve people’s lives through supporting informed decision-making processes.
In an era of post-truth politics and “alternative facts,” the need for scientific evidence and reasoning in shaping public policies is crucial. Recognizing its role in advancing evidence-based research and good health governance in Lebanon, AUB on behalf of FHS, signed a tripartite agreement with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) in Lebanon, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish the Policy Support Observatory (PSO), which will be physically hosted at the Ministry of Public Health and technically operated by FHS.
The agreement was announced on April 16, 2018, during a ceremony held at the Ministry of Public Health headquarters in Beirut. This pioneering initiative, a first in Lebanon and the region, serves as a stepping stone towards bridging the gap between academic institutions, international health organizations, and the Lebanese public sector, allowing for the MoPH to strengthen and institutionalize the use of research evidence, data, and tacit knowledge. Through this knowledge, the PSO will enable decision makers, and particularly officials and experts in the MoPH, to design special programs and draw informed policies and strategies that respond to the basic health needs and improve healthcare in Lebanon. The distinctive participation in the event of the director-general of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebereysus, reflects the importance of the initiative, not only for Lebanon but also for the global public health community. Indeed, this partnership marks yet another innovative model that can be successfully replicated in other countries in the region—and beyond—to promote evidence-informed decision-making in health.
The event was attended by high-profile participants including Minister of Public Health Ghassan Hasbani, AUB President Fadlo Khuri, as well as representatives from various ministries, public institutions, and professional associations, in addition to experts and researchers from all over Lebanon.
In his opening speech, Dr. Walid Ammar, director general of the MoPH, stated that this observatory "comes to consolidate the approach of good governance practices, adopted by the Ministry in order to enhance and ensure continuity of accomplishmnets achieved by the health sector so far." One of the foundations of these successes, according to Ammar is “the adoption of scientific evidence and advanced information systems, in addition to the approach of the "cooperation governance" in the health sector, under the umbrella of the Ministry, institutionlizaing cooperation among all stakeholders." He added: “The project we are launching today is not a new one, it is the consolidation of existing practices and the promotion of previous achievements."
WHO Director-General Tedros congratulated all the collaborators on this new step and stressed that WHO is committed to working with the Ministry of Public Health and the American University of Beirut to make this initiative a success. Tedros added that "this observatory requires prudent management and cooperation with all concerned parties within the health sector and takes into account national health policies."
Dr. Jawad Al-Mahjour, acting director of the World Health Organization for the Eastern Mediterranean Region, confirmed WHO’s high appreciation of “this fruitful cooperation between the Ministry of Public Health and AUB. He also pointed out that "the health sector today is characterized by interdependence and networking and multisectoral cooperation, and that this initiative will contribute to promoting effective and flexible collaborative approaches to health sector governance in Lebanon.”
Speaking on the role of AUB in supporting this observatory, President Fadlo Khuri stated that, "today there is a global trend to adopt evidence and scientific evidence in the design and management of health systems and to guide and implement public health policies." Khuri added that “it is not surprising that the voices are calling for bridging the gap between scientific research and the process of policy-making and decision-making, especially the gap between the academic sector and the government.”
Highlighting the new emerging roles of academic institutions, Khuri considered that "the university mission is gradually moving beyond its traditional roles associated with education, services and research to adopt a ‘fourth mission’ related to its ability to engage in partnerships with the government and society to achieve a sustainable societal impact.”
Khuri also praised the significance and effectiveness of the relationship between the Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization, and the American University of Beirut, especially the Faculty of Health Sciences, which has evolved considerably over the past years, and was further enhanced today through this Observatory.
Finally, Khuri saw that "April 16 will be another milestone in the history of Lebanon, as it will witness the launch of the Health Policy Support Observatory in a one-of-a-kind initiative in Lebanon and the region."
Also praising this cooperation scheme, Minister Hasbani considered the Ministry’s special partnership with AUB and WHO as "the foundations of the cooperation mechanisms that made the health sector in Lebanon the first in the Arab region and 32nd internationally." "This Observatory will facilitate communications with all parties and partners, especially citizens, to ensure the sustainability of cooperation, effectiveness and scientific policy, away from political influence or any other subjective effects," added Hasbani.
FHS has been a long-time friend and partner of the Ministry of Public Health, most recently through their collaboration with its Knowledge to Policy (K2P) Center, one of the many and most prominent research centers in AUB. Since its official inception, the K2P Center has identified the MoPH as a main partner, working together closely to inform health policy priorities. The relationship between the MoPH and K2P Center evolved naturally over the years progressing towards a more structured framework of interaction and collaboration. Their close interaction and mutual realization of the need to complement operational data and tacit knowledge with local research and global evidence accelerated the “natural course of things” and planted the seeds for the concept of PSO.
The PSO and K2P Center will be independent entities with distinct roles sharing a common mandate and collaborating on common areas of interest. The plans and activities of the PSO will complement the work of the K2P Center in promoting evidence-based and sustainable policy formation and implementation in support of the MoPH, and will consequently impact the entire health sector.