Based in Gaziantep, Turkey, the Research for Health Strengthening Systems in northwest Syria (R4HSSS) launch event was held on 24th August 2021. Leading partners, The Conflict and Health Research Group (CHRG) at King College London (KCL) and Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) kicked off the event by exploring the foundations of the project and a demand for strengthening health systems in northwest Syria following 10 years of conflict that has affected all aspects of the health system.

The project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), is an operational research project that sets out to produce a model on health system strengthening in the context of northwest Syria, along with research activities which are embedded in humanitarian and development activities. The documents produced for best practices highlight gaps and also plans for the long term in order to enhance health practices.

Professor Richard Sullivan and Professor Preeti Patel of KCL discussed the importance of research in informing humanitarian and early recovery health interventions. They emphasised the need to adopt new operational approaches in the way health research is conducted in conflict settings. These approaches should ensure the focus on needs driven research agendas, localisation, sustainability, and multidisciplinary partnerships. Dr. Ghanem Tayyara of UOSSM shared the same vision and added further the need to utilise available resources among Syrian NGOs and the Syrian health workforce. He mentioned that the Syrian NGOs involved in the health response have developed new and innovative approaches to navigate the complicated context of the Syrian conflict. They have also accumulated a lot of experience, data, and networks. All these resources should be utilised to produce high quality research that can document best practices, identify gaps, and pave the way for the early recovery phase of the health system in Syria. Dr. Salem Abdan of Idleb Health Directorate emphasised the importance of locally driven and led research. He explained how the health system in northwest Syria is exposed to a triple burden of war related injuries, communicable diseases, and non-communicable diseases. This is in addition to the challenges from the ongoing targeting of health infrastructure and personnel as part of the conflict atrocities. However, there have been several local innovative initiatives to strengthen the health system using bottom up approaches that have led to the establishment of the Health Directorates in northwest Syria. These directorates act as technical bodies to govern and coordinate the health sector. Dr. Abdan indicated the need for research to document these lessons learned and in turn support these local initiatives to plan for the future health system.

The event featured a podium presentation lead by one of KCL’s project lead investigator’s, Dr. Abdulkarim Ekzayez. Dr. Ekzayez introduced a remarkable number of acknowledged supporting partners including, Syria Public Health Network, Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge, and David Notts Foundation who are pivotal in supporting the projects training components. Dr. Ekzayez emphasised the flexibility of the project and gave the opportunity for those attending the launch to join as additional partners for the project and have further inputs on the research activities. He outlined the workstreams of the project, Provision of Health Services, Medical Education and Training, Health Information System, Health Governance and Financing, and Research and Clinical Capacity Strengthening. Dr. Ekzayez invited all institutions, NGOs and individual researchers who have an interest in exploring specific topics to come forward and not only propose these topics to R4HSSS team, but also to lead in implementing research with full support from R4HSSS. He stressed the point of complementarity with all efforts in the health sector in Syria, this includes the humanitarian and coordination efforts of the health cluster, as well as other coordination platforms including UN agencies and various health actors. “Donors and governmental agencies will also be kept informed about the findings of our research to develop the polices and plans related to Syria, and all health workers in northwest Syria are invited to be part of this project. “

The launch concluded with information for the annual conference on Health Research in the Syrian Conflict hosted by the project partners. Call for Abstracts will be announced soon. All participants are invited to submit an abstract of their research. Further announcements regarding the conference will be announced in the coming months.