Official INASA Opening Promises Healthier Future in Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau celebrated the official opening of its new national public health institute, INASA, in February, marking the country’s remarkable journey to rebuild its war-torn public health system. The celebration attracted a crowd of well-wishers representing Guinea-Bissau’s prime minister, government ministries, and development partners; partners and collaborators from other African countries; WHO; and the governments of Brazil, Portugal, Spain, China, Angola, Cape Verde, Iceland, and Denmark, among others. 

INASA 2011Scientific seminars, tours, partner recognition, and a keynote speech by INASA President Amabelia Rodrigues highlighted the inaugural event. Festivities began with a ribbon-cutting outside the new headquarters building, which houses the INASA administrative staff as well as state-of-the-art meeting and training space available nowhere else in the bomb-damaged capital city of Bissau. 

The new institute links and unites the formerly fragmented components of Guinea-Bissau’s national public health system and is already promoting evidence-based decision making that is improving lives in Guinea-Bissau. With its own and leveraged funds from IANPHI and other partners, and guidance from colleagues in Brazil and Portugal, Guinea-Bissau has rebuilt its lab and galvanized disease monitoring and reporting. The national school of public health is now part of INASA and is training public health staff, nurses, midwives, and lab technicians to replace those who fled during the civil war. A surveillance program equipped with laptops and cell phones has reduced response time to outbreaks from weeks to days.

The journey from dream to reality was impeded by a sad recent history of coups and coup attempts, political crises, and civil war and destruction – but was ultimately achieved through the determination and perseverance of the country’s public health leadership. Born from a vision by Guinea-Bissau’s Secretary General for Health Augusto Paulo Silva more than 15 years ago, the project to create the new institute was ultimately started with IANPHI seed funding in 2009. Since then, every day brings more partners and more progress toward development of a fully functional NPHI.

INASA was IANPHI’s first project and its most successful in actualizing the vision of IANPHI leadership and members, said IANPHI Project Manager Allison Greenspan who represented the association at the inaugural event.   

"Since 2006, we have  learned many important lessons about developing national public health institutes," she said. "First is the importance of partnerships. As you know from the experience in Guinea Bissau, IANPHI works closely in country with major development partners along with IANPHI members to leverage their expertise and resources in support of strategic plans for NPHI development. With a plan in hand, a country like Guinea Bissau – which has not traditionally been the focus of donors – has been able, against all odds and in the most challenging circumstances, to attract resources and virtually transform its capacity within a few short years. 

"The second lesson is that NPHIs cannot be created overnight. The world’s strongest institutes have been built over decades. Particularly in countries with little to start with, the initial gains can be dramatic. But these gains are also fragile. We must all persevere over time to ensure that the steady progress we are observing is not lost. 

INASA Opening Poster"The final big lesson – and the most important – is the value of leadership to champion the development and nurturing of a new institute. Successful projects have been due largely to in-country leaders who wish to improve their citizens’ health and who recognize the value of a science- driven public health approach – not to mention who have lots of energy and commitment. The key to success is a dynamic, driven champion who takes on the goal of building a strong NPHI, supported by a gifted staff and a catalyst who can help pull together a plan, the players, and sources of support to get things started. In many cases, IANPHI may act as the catalyst, but it is the leaders in the country who make things happen and make projects thrive."

Read more about creation of Guinea-Bissau INASA.