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Leading Health Journal Co-edited By LIDC Member in Honour of LIDC Colleague

A better understanding of the health challenges facing developing countries is “vital”, according to the latest special edition of Health Policy and Planning. The publication co-edited by LIDC member Professor Lucy Gilson focuses on health policy analysis - an academic field, neglected in developing countries, which explores how health policies are developed and implemented.  The collection of seven papers, published this month, is a tribute to the work of Professor Gill Walt, another LIDC member and co-founder of the journal Health Policy and Planning. Walt, Emeritus Professor of International Health Policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and Sripen Tantivess, of the Ministry of Public Health, Thailand, have also co-authored one of the papers in the special issue. Their research investigates the HIV/AIDS policy response in Thailand, with specific reference to the process by which the universal Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) policy developed between 2001 and 2007.

Importance of health policy analysis
The editorial in Future Directions for Health Policy Analysis: A Tribute to the Work of Professor Gill Walt explains the role of health policy analysis today. Gilson, Professor of Health Policy and Systems at LSHTM and the Centre for Health Policy, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and the other guest editors (Kent Buse, Susan F Murray and Clare Dickinson) write: “This area of multi-disciplinary inquiry is, in higher income countries, a recognized academic field of practical relevance, but in low and middle-income settings it remains an underdeveloped area of work. It is clear that better understanding of the challenges to health policy implementation and renewed action to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are vital … Health policy analysis is important to both tasks. It can help explain why certain health issues receive political attention, and others do not… It can also identify the perverse and unintended consequences of policy decisions.”

The majority of the papers in the special collection of the peer-reviewed journal look at methodological issues relating to health policy analysis and reflect on the authors’ own experiences in this field. They call for an explicit focus on the methods that are used to undertake policy analysis, recommending that future work should place more emphasis on comparing experience across countries and policies. The authors also call for greater investment in the field to support capacity development, deepen analysis and enable engagement with policy practitioners. Their papers pay tribute to the work of Walt, a key intellectual influence in the field of health policy analysis. Walt co-founded Health Policy and Planning in 1986 and has played an important role in its subsequent development.

Result of international discussions
The papers in the special edition originate from a workshop held in London in May 2007. The event brought together 25 health policy analysts from around the world and was jointly organised by academic and development organisations, including the Consortium for Research on Equitable Health Systems (CREHS) – an international consortium led by LSHTM. CREHS is a five-year collaborative research programme funded by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID). It aims to generate knowledge about how to strengthen health system policies and interventions to benefit poor people in low and middle-income countries. The other organising bodies were the HLSP Institute, King’s College, London and the Overseas Development Institute.

Future developments
The collection’s editors add: “The publication of this collection of papers is part of what we hope will be diverse and multiple responses to the 2007 workshop’s recommendations for the future directions of health policy analysis work .” The recommendations included increasing “methodological diversity” and better use of existing policy analysis. The special issue will be of particular relevance to researchers, analysts, advocates and managers carrying out health policy analysis work, especially for those based in low and middle-income countries.

Article by Rebecca Wolfe, Communications Officer at LSHTM (including Consortium for Research on Equitable Health SystemsTowards 4+5 Research Programme Consortium and

Global HIV/AIDS Initiatives Network) and Guy Collender, Communications Officer at LIDC