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From here to there? Musings on the building of the knowledge Translation Network Africa. By Dr. Suzanne Kiwanuka

From here to there? Musings on the building of the Knowledge Translation Network Africa. By Dr. Suzanne Kiwanuka

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. Lao Tzu

On 23rd November 2013, 17 strangers gathered at a nondescript hotel in Kampala Uganda to launch the Knowledge Translation Network for Africa (KTNET Africa). This network was envisioned as a platform, which would support research evidence uptake across nine African countries but also foster collaboration to build capacity and enhance the exchange of health system strengthening evidence across the countries. Although enthusiastic, many of the participants hinted that the journey had the makings of an excursion to kilimanjaro especially given that some researchers were eons ahead of others in the research journey and just did not feel it is their mandate as researchers to promote the uptake of research evidence for policy making. The stakes were set high. Nonetheless, the spirit of temerity overruled, agreements were negotiated (and re-negotiated) contracts were made (and remade). After all, sometimes it's the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination. Drake

More than one year later in January 2015, a larger gathering of 28 friends met at the Soramba hotel in Addis Ababa Ethiopia to share their progress regarding their mission. For many of the researchers, a lot had been done. Stakeholders had been engaged, research products shared. For others opportunities to draw inspiration from colleagues were plenty. Challenges and lessons were shared, new targets set and the next leg of the journey began. For the KTNET secretariat this meeting was proof that indeed partnerships (strong, durable partnerships) take time to build and some partnerships require more effort than others. Furthermore, mutual respect is not given, or taken but negotiated and earned. The mission to build this network was worth every bead of sweat and every sleepless night. After all, It's the friends we meet along life’s road that help us appreciate the journey.

KTNET Africa partners at the 2nd annual meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

At the end of August 2016,  a larger gathering of friends met again in Kampala, Uganda to take stock of what had been built and achieved. In attendance were more than 70 friends from 13 countries across Africa, Canada and Europe. The meeting was honored to host The Chargé d'Affaires a.i. , Mr. Hans Peter van der Woude

of the Netherlands Royal Embassy to Uganda, chairs of the NWO-WOTRO GHPHSR program and steering committees, Prof Stefan Peterson, the Chief of Health at UNICEF, Prof. George William Pariyo,  a Senior Scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,  as well as prominent researchers and policy makers from Netherlands and Africa.  Partners of this burgeoning network shared the opportunities they have had to influence policy through their research and the hope to continue building on the foundation of collaboration set only a few years ago. Network members were challenged and encouraged by the possibilities and myriad of approaches that can be used to influence policy but also challenged by the potential benefits of building stronger systems through collaboration. On the whole this expedition may prove that once more the world is round, contextual evidence can be shared and that collaboration trumps competition any day.

Participants at the KTNET Africa 3rd annual meeting in Kampala Uganda

On a personal note I would like to see African partners (both researchers and policy makers) continue to be supported to collaborate more during research and in promoting the use of research evidence for health systems strengthening with support from northern partners. I would like to see more opportunities for north-south, south-north, south-south learning and capacity building identified and fostered. I would like to see the innovations (BTi for controlling malaria larvae, Use of Informal information channels for health promotion at community level, MyShare for strengthening quality of health services under health insurance among others) developed and tested under the GHPHSR program tested and scaled up in different African settings. I would like to see research partners join technical working groups within their countries so that they can contribute their research evidence to decision making. Ghana, Ethiopia, Senegal, Rwanda and DRC have already made strides towards achieving this. Finally I would ultimately like us all to assess, five, ten years down the road, what we have achieved or failed to, (why and why not) in order to capture these lessons for future generations. As we trudge along, in a more closely connected, more optimistic frame of mind, here’s to hoping we continue to believe that research can influence policy and practice, achieve more than we expected to achieve at our very first meeting, forge stronger mutually beneficial partnerships and prove (not only) to ourselves that “The only impossible journey is the one you never begin. Anthony Robbins

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