Why Public Health Organizations Should Partner with Academic Institutes

In a recent article, The Guardian newspaper called for the National Health Service to turn to universities as a key resource, arguing that the research ecosystem in the UK is fragmented and more partnerships that align expertise with the goal of improving public health are needed.

The recommendation was echoed in a recent U.S. research study, which observed that 30–40 percent of patients in the United States “do not receive care complying with current research evidence.” It suggested that collaboration in research, education, and clinical practice too often remain unexplored in many developed countries across the world.

A case study for what such collaboration can look like is the healthcare sector in Qatar. In a decade, it has advanced from being ranked 27th in the world to 13th, and now stands as the highest in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Education Doesn’t End With Graduation
Higher education plays a key role in advancing national and regional public health in Qatar since the work of developing and personalizing cutting-edge treatment interventions is firmly implanted in academic institutions.

Qatar Foundation (QF), a non-profit organization supporting Qatar’s development, works to ensure that education lends itself to practice in ways that make it inseparable from the process of diagnosis and treatment. For instance, Sidra Medicine, the country’s premier for women and children, benefits from the academic scholarship of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q), a medical university just across the street from its fellow QF entity, by having WCM-Q’s professors serve as physicians within its various departments. Sidra academicians, by the same token, hold faculty positions and professorships at WCM-Q, further boosting interprofessional training for medical students and professionals.

“Sidra is introducing innovative education and training programs for medical students, trainees, and physicians in various specialties, which has never been done in this region before,” said Dr. Muhammad Waqar Azeem, Chair of Psychiatry at Sidra and Professor of Psychiatry at WCM-Q. “Ultimately, our research is improving our interventions. It is not undertaken for the sake of research, but to improve people’s lives.”

Through such programs, QF ensures practicing doctors are equipped with the theoretical knowledge of academics that they might otherwise leave behind after their graduation.


Learning Environments Can Be Integrated
Sidra and WCM-Q are joined by specialized schools for children with autism and other learning challenges, all of which are part of a larger learning ecosystem built by QF—known as Education City— which features dozens of academic, research, and community centers. Located in a 3,000-acre campus, Education City benefits the national healthcare sector by ensuring that the results of research are swiftly translated into patient care.

Within this integrated learning environment, QF has also established the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), an initiative that gathers a global community of health experts, innovators, and policymakers to capture and transmit the best evidence-based ideas and practices in the health industry.

In 2016, WISH published a report titled ‘Autism: A Global Framework for Action’—compiled by 11 thought-leaders from five continents—that emerged through this unique ecosystem.

“One day, while having breakfast with the then-CEO of WISH, he asked me how we could address autism for the 2016 WISH summit,” said Dr. Azeem, who then organized a panel of specialists in this area to explore the possibilities of this project. The result of this association was an evidence-based report recommending best practices in autism services for developing and middle-income countries. “In less than one year, we were able to see an idea born out of a breakfast meeting come to life,” he said.

The example illustrates how cross-functional work between various health-related organizations ensures that innovation is not bogged down by the bureaucracies that often accompany formal partnerships. As Dr. Azeem’s experience shows, projects in Education City capable of setting local and international standards can begin with a simple meeting with an entity next door.

Stakeholders Can Help Address Industry Gaps
In a typical university- association, one party takes the initiative and offers incentives to the other to enter into a mutually beneficial pact. In Qatar, however, QF acts as the driving force for bringing different organizations to the table, pushing them to use their expertise to fill existing gaps in the health system.

“Many countries take for granted the potential of having all stakeholders around the table, mainly because, for some, this can be very hard to do,” said Dr. Azeem. “Due to the size, resources, and commitment available in Qatar, what can be achieved in the US at the state level can be accomplished here at the national level.”

A key example of this is Qatar’s National Autism Plan. Since the Ministry of Public Health launched the plan in 2017, Dr. Azeem has been instrumental in foregrounding the benefits of involving stakeholders from the private and public sector.

“Qatar is the only country that has such a plan in the whole region,” he explains. “It was only possible due to the support shown by the country’s top leadership, the presence of stakeholders from across the country on the table, and the active participation of families. Everyone involved met for about two years to put the plan together successfully.”

Sidra may have only opened its main hospital building earlier this year, but the medical network through which it interacts with other educational and research entities within QF is already bearing fruit. In October, Sidra performed the country’s first separation surgery of conjoined twins, paving the way for complex pediatric surgeries and eliminating the local need to travel abroad for rare and complex conditions. Sidra also ushered in an era of medical tourism in Qatar when a prematurely-born was flown to Qatar from Kuwait for an emergency operation to correct a heart defect, at just 29 days old.

Such examples outline how connecting hospitals with universities, and research institutes with public health centers, has all the signs of being the most efficient way forward for revolutionizing ailing healthcare systems around the world.

To learn more about Qatar Foundation and its various initiatives, visit www.qf.org.qa.

Why Public Health Organizations Should Partner with Academic Institutes

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