Conference roundup – THET International Conference 2014: Milestones and Horizons

October 8, 2014


On Thursday 25th and Friday 26th September, the annual Tropical Health Education Trust International Conference took place in Birmingham, UK. Over 140 delegates from throughout the international health partnerships community gathered to discuss progress and report lessons learned on best practice, at the event titled “Milestones and Horizons”.

THET Flyers

Conference focus

Three thematic focus areas within health partnerships were highlighted for this year’s conference, as described by THET’s Head of Partnerships, Andrew Jones:

…what we’ve found over the past several years is that there are some overarching themes which are institution-wide, which enable partnerships to create a much more institutional focus for their partnership work, so instead of being focused on one particular area of a hospital, maybe in pathology, or maternal and child health and so on, these three areas transcend those departmental boundaries, and are really important for an institution, and those three areas are: Patient Safety, Medical equipment, and Leadership & Management.

This three-pronged focus was carried through in the structure of the two-days’ plenary sessions and workshops – the latter in particular acting as a staging ground for experienced clinicians, health program managers and implementers to discuss and share ideas on best practice. The overall theme to the first day was the sharing of knowledge and exchange of ideas, addressing common challenges, and in particular the building of strategies to increase reach and support through effective communication of results. The second day would then build on the thematic areas, taking into account how health partnerships can better engage in patient safety, medical equipment, and leadership and management to improve outcomes for both patients and staff.

Proceedings begin! Networking and sharing experiences of health partnerships

After a welcome by THET Chair, Professor Sir Andy Haines – Professor of Public Health and Primary Care at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – participants were introduced to THET’s broad work in Partnerships for Global Development, with a rundown of their successes over recent years, given by Andrew Jones, and THET UK’s Chief Executive, Jane Cockerell, who encouraged better recognition of Health Workers as:

Advocates for change, and catalysts within communities.

Following this, delegates were treated to a rapid tour of successful projects, given in the format of ‘Lightning presentations’, each lasting for only three minutes. A session highlight was when the entire room rose to its feet to sing acapella with Joy Kemp – Global Professional Advisor with the Royal College of Midwives, on important lessons to employ in partnerships to improve Midwifery practice: Education, Regulation, and Association!

In addition to the usual networking opportunities, the between-session breaks also offered the chance to engage with representatives of organisations whose work offered significant opportunities to improve healthcare provision, such as Medical Aid International’s display of their EcoClaveTM – a multi-fuel autoclave which can ensure safe sterilisation of surgical instruments, even where there is no electricity, and Medical Aid Films for Life, who showed their work in creating educational materials for health workers, which are being used by over 1200 individuals and organisations around the world, all made possible by creation of partnerships with organisations on the ground.


Day 1’s workshops covered six major areas:

  • Replicating past success of partnerships in new ventures
  • Exploring new funding opportunities to diversify partnership resources
  • Outcomes measurement to demonstrate the effectiveness of Health Partnership work
  • Anticipating barriers in order to form effective strategies to promote change
  • Demonstrating the benefits of returned volunteers both personally, and to the domestic health service
  • Sharing experiences and perspectives of working with professional associations

Workshop inputs

That afternoon, the always-fascinating Dr. Greg Martin, Editor-in-Chief of Globalisation and Health, delivered a talk which brought delegates on a tour of his experiences with communicating achievements- not always an easy task, and a critical point made was that greater coverage doesn’t always equate to the best approach; rather, it is in knowing the audience, and addressing them specifically that gets the best results. (Don’t forget to take a look at Dr. Martin’s youtube channel, featuring regular updates on Global Health issues in his series: “This week in Global Health”!)

Dr. Greg Martin

Helping partnerships to better engage with patient safety, medical equipment donations, and leadership & management

The conference’s second day’s sessions kicked off with thoughts on medical equipment donations by Peter Cook- Clinical Engineer at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Trust, and project lead for the Medical Equipment Project in Ndola, Zambia, who highlighted the need for partner staff to not only know how to maintain the equipment, but also to gain experience of the logistics involved- not always easy in underserved regions, where already-stretched budgets may not go as far as they can in countries with well-developed supply chains. And yet it is also the experience of operating within such constraints that can help in staff’s professional development.

Overseas donations of medical equipment are of course a necessity to help improve patient outcomes through partnership, however their maintenance and ongoing upkeep are also not to be taken lightly, nor can the importance of technical staff be underestimated – as Andrew Jones later pointed out:

…if the equipment in the theatre isn’t functioning, you actually can’t do some of that surgery anyway, and biomedical engineers and technicians tend to be quite overlooked in the way in which an institution operates, and we often talk about the biomedical engineers being in the basement (which they very often are in a hospital) and actually also they’re kind of the basement in terms of the management structures, and so working with them to try and raise the levels of professionalism, so that people actually see that they get a piece of equipment repaired, and it means that they can function again, then the status of those biomedical engineers and technicians is elevated.

This was followed by thoughts on improving patient care and safety, with Julie Storr, of the WHO-APPS programme, as well as a panel question and answer session with the morning’s speakers on best practices for leadership and management among health professionals. The day’s workshops were then geared towards putting together the experiences of attendees to build knowledge and best practice around key issues facing health partnerships:

  • Improving Patient Care and Safety
  • Leadership and Management Outside the NHS
  • Making Partnership Projects Institutional
  • Making Medical Equipment Work
  • Leadership Needs of Clinicians in Developing Countries

Speaking late in the day about the success of current and ongoing initiatives through WHO-APPS, following a highly-subscribed, and ideas-rich workshop on improving patient safety, Julie Storr commented:

Within WHO-APPS, it is clear patient safety is a universal problem… and that something can be done – starting simply, focusing, narrowing down the area of attention and action to simple things, such as Infection Prevention and Control, where we are seeing results to address the deficits in the structures and the processes that impact on the safety of healthcare across Africa.

Creating real and sustainable improvements in patient safety has been a longstanding goal among health partnerships, which can have far-reaching impacts. As Andrew Jones pointed out:

… if you’re operating in an unsafe environment where rates of hospital-acquired infections for instance are high, then anything else that you do, if you engage in surgery as part of your focus for your project, then you’re exposing your patients to significant danger, and you might have solved one problem, but you’ve exposed them to another…

After a successful conference, real-world outcomes to follow

THET’s 2014 Conference gathered a diverse range of clinicians, managers, technical experts, and many more, whose discussions over the course of the two days will go on to have a long-term impact on the way health partnerships are built and implemented overseas. If you would like to know more about THET, please click here to visit their website, where you can access information about their Health Partnerships Scheme, plus many resources such as publications (including their toolkit for medical equipment donations), as well as a video gallery showcasing partnerships from around the globe.

Continuing the discussion

If you are working in, or would like to know more about, Partnerships for Health, especially international and cross-sector partnerships, we would like to invite you to register for the Irish Forum for Global Health International Conference 2014, taking place at Trinity College Dublin on the 5-6th of November.

The conference will be co-hosted by the Centre for Global Health, Trinity College Dublin, and Concern Worldwide, supported by Irish Aid. Attendees will be drawn from throughout the Global Health and International Development sectors, including THET, and the tightly-packed schedule features great speakers such as Writer, Activist, and Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow, Sisonke Msimang, and Irish Times Columnist, Health Promotion specialist, and Healthy Ireland Council member, Dr. Jacky Jones.

The conference will also host the Annual Professor John Kevany Memorial Lecture, to be delivered by Professor Eilish McAuliffe, Professor of Health Systems at University College Dublin. It will also feature the Irish Aid Father Michael Kelly World AIDS Day Lecture, featuring Professor Father Michael Kelly himself; Noerine Kaleeba, Founder of The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO), and Vice-Chair of the Ugandan National Health Research Organisation; and Irish HIV Advocate, and Operations Director of the IFGH and ESTHER Ireland, Nadine Ferris France.

IFGH flyer image


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