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When the snow fell on health systems research: a symposium sketch

Adam Wagstaff's picture

Editor's warning: The author wrote this post after hitting his head and suffering some memory loss, and the World Bank cannot vouch for the accuracy of everything reported in it.

It was the perfect finale. In the vast high-tech auditorium of Beijing's International Convention Center, the audience jostled in the queue to pose questions to the final plenary panel of the Second Global Symposium on Health Systems Research

First came an elderly lady from the Indian subcontinent who asked why the panelists were so old. "How can we address the issues of tomorrow with the experts of yesterday? If we're going to be serious about universal health coverage, we need youth!" The crowd -- mostly young -- signaled their approval. A middle-aged gentleman from South Africa  tried to engage the panel on the damages inflicted on world nutrition by the global food corporations. Warming to his theme of corporate neocolonialism, land grabs, and genetically modified foods, he invoked the memory of Lenin. "That's Vladimir Lenin", he explained to the crowd, "not John Lennon." "Vladimir who? John who?" wondered the youthful crowd. The chair, the ever-youthful Lancet Editor-in-Chief Richard Horton, whose favored medium is Twitter, asked the gentleman to keep his comments tweet-length. A young woman from Britain's aid agency, DfID, eventually wrestled the mike from Lenin's apologist, and said what was on everyone's mind. "Richard, Dear Leader.", she urged, "Tell us your thoughts. It's you we want to hear!"