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Accordia's Infectious Diseases Summit Kicks Off in Dar es Salaam

April 15, 2010, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Accordia is reporting from the 2010 Infectious Diseases Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Check back often, as stories will be posted here throughout the event.

Accordia Global Health Foundation convened its third annual Infectious Diseases Summit this morning in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  The topic, Return on Investment, seems to have hit a nerve with the approximately 100 invited participants from 20 countries in Africa, North America, and Europe.  There seems to be an intense level of interest in helping to figure out how we can better evaluate our work to improve healthcare capacity in Africa in ways that go beyond the linear measurements of "outputs" and begin to better understand how that work is helping patients, their families, and the communities and countries in which they live.

After welcomes from the conference co-chairs, the conference started off with thoughts from representatives of private foundations, public sector companies, government agencies, and evaluation experts who urged the participants to think about evaluation in new ways that better capture the full impact of what they are doing, and to communicate their program impact in a way that tells a compelling story.  Particularly interesting to a number of participants seemed to be the comment that, rather than thinking about what we've accomplished, we should adopt the model that the aspiring angel in "It's a Wonderful Life" used -- asking what would have happened if our programs hadn't been implemented.  Someone else noted that despite all the challenges that go into trying to figure out exactly what the impact of a particular program or project may have been, capacity building is critical. "No matter what you want to do, be it delivering drugs or providing better ways to test people for disease, if there's no capacity to get the tasks done effectively and efficiently, then you have a significant problem," was the general tone of the conversation.

So how do we figure out our impact?  One factor will certainly be the availability of accurate data.  The Sub-Saharan African Medical Schools Study (SAMSS) will be releasing a major report later this month, and they gave participants some advance highlights.  One particularly important thing done through the study was to actually count the number of medical schools in Africa, which had been estimated to number between 80 and 175.  The reality: 147 public and private medical schools exist.  Some countries have none; Sudan and Nigeria have the most.  But of those 147, less than 20% are involved in research, so one of the major incentives that can be offered to academic physicians and others to teach in these schools, as opposed to leaving Africa to take other opportunities, is lost to them.

As the day came to an end, participants at the Summit heard about four different programs working to build health capacity on the continent, and about their evaluation and measurement activities.  The challenge for tomorrow will be to start to take the lessons from these and other programs that are really concentrating on measuring impact, along with the ideas of various experts, and start to move towards ideas that can be utilized to evaluate our effectiveness. This will allow us to develop better and more effective strategies, tactics, and programs that will help funders and others to know that their investments are having the impact that they hope for.