In the summer of 2021, the Centre for Science and Policy hosted a three-part lunchtime seminar series featuring Policy Fellows from the Research for Health in Conflict (R4HC) project. As part of the R4HC-MENA Project, between 2018 and 2020, the R4HC Policy Fellows visited Cambridge to explore research needed to help tackle health policy questions affected by conflict in the MENA region. The seminars focused on what the Fellows learnt during their time in the UK, and the opportunities and barriers they have faced when implementing these ideas in practice. In the second seminar of this series, World Health Organisation Representative in Bahrain Dr Tasnim Atatrah shared how her R4HC-MENA Fellowship has impacted her work in international health emergency.

“Over the years, I have been transforming from being a medical doctor, waiting for patients to come to my door, to being a global public health leader and advocate, where my work has increasingly focused on investing in health systems resilience,” reflected Dr Tasnim Atatrah, reflecting on her experience seeking to maximize the impact of her health programmes throughout her career thus far. She described this resilience as not only about being adaptive and responsive, but about utilizing available resources to maximize impact, while working with stakeholders, policymakers, governments, academic institutions, community representatives, and others to promote health and wellbeing.

In her current role as Head of Office for the WHO in Bahrain, Dr Atatrah’s objectives include establishing a flagship destination for finding effective and efficient advice and best practices to advance health and wellbeing in Bahrain, the Middle East, and globally. She also aims to identify specific areas of advancing health where Bahrain as an incubator for success can export and share with other countries, while collaborating with other UN agencies, ministries, parliament, and government institutions to advance the implementation of the sustainable development goals and that health is integrated in all policies.

One of the lessons Dr Atatrah has learnt throughout her career thus far is that addressing health and wellbeing is not only about health facilities – it is also about working with other sectors such as education, implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, and strengthening countries’ resilience. To implement resilient health systems, she believes we need to implement frameworks where countries can have a comprehensive, integrated approach to advancing their health systems, while drawing upon approaches to capacity building and coordination across sectors to grow, guide and tailor programmatic development.

Dr Atatrah’s work has also included the coordination of research activity assessment, where she stresses a need to ensure that we include all relevant stakeholders, avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’, and work to promote the results of research and evidence-based recommendations through various platforms – including among policy and advocacy communities.

A fellowship with the Research for Health in Conflict (R4HC) project and the Centre for Science and Policy has offered Dr Atatrah the opportunity to be engaged in several activities including panel discussions with the Academy of Medical Sciences; knowledge exchanges with doctoral researchers; a chance to present at the Women Leaders in Health and Conflict Initiative, and the opportunity to author articles for a global audience. Moreover, this program has provided her with the space to reflect on and share her experiences working to strengthen emergency preparedness and response in several countries, while learning from a diverse range of researchers.

In her closing remarks, Dr Atatrah reflected on the essential role of partnership and networks in providing a foundation for accelerating the translation of knowledge into practice. She stressed that ‘the more the network is expanded, the more we can learn, share, and reflect.” Here, Dr Atatrah also highlighted a need for information sharing and innovation in the field of health to be dynamic and action oriented, while we must work to ensure that our approaches to building health systems leave no one behind.

Reported by Kate McNeil, Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge