CliffsNotes on private sector sessions at the Health Systems Symposium in Beijing

In the shadow of the gleaming steel Beijing National Stadium—the famous “bird’s nest” built by starchitects Herzog & de Meuron for the 2008 Olympic Games— 1,775 participants from over 110 countries gathered to hear the latest on Health Systems Research, a new field designed to provide evidence for policy decision making.

A formerly “orphaned” subject, the field has gained momentum since the WHO convened the First Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Montreux.

Over the conference’s four days there were nearly 200 program events including keynotes, plenaries, concurrent sessions, satellites, posters, films and informal discussions and debates.

If you couldn’t make it—or were not able to attend the various private sector-related sessions—here are my CliffsNotes.

New findings about health marketplaces in low- and middle-income countries

“An effective health system can create order between command and control, and chaos,” said Gerry Bloom to an above-capacity room of students and researchers interested in Complex Adaptive Systems, an admittedly “abstract” theory about health planning amidst tremendous development, urbanization, and change in emerging economies.

Dr. Bloom said policy makers have an imperative to understand health markets, including the “blurring” between the public and private sectors.

Or as David Bishai put it, in a somewhat-unrelated homily on John Snow, “the unseen forces in the world may be much more powerful than the visible.”

Several speakers mentioned the importance of understanding the dynamics of formal and informal health markets, and traditional vs. nontraditional approaches to healthcare delivery. Society participants surveyed also voted for more research on topics including “the balance of sectors, including informal, private, and public.”

Only with a deep understanding of these dynamics including an understanding of the various influences exerted by public, private, and informal providers can policy makers “take off the blinders” (as one World Bank researcher put it) and enact successful strategies to strengthen the entire health system.

Among the findings presented on health markets:

Health market innovations are showing results and scaling up. Researchers presented, in traditional and multi-media formats, on the impact and expansion of several innovative programs designed to help the poor access quality health services in the health marketplace.

We will be posting more detailed summaries of many sessions listed above in the weeks to come, so please keep checking this site if you want to learn more.

For more about takeaways relating to the private sector from this conference, visit the Future Health Systems blog, surf Twitter for 140-character updates, check out CHMI’s Flickr feed for photos, and our Vimeo page in the coming week.