Advocacy Skills Are Important for Scientists

By: Dr. Felicia Owusu-Antwi

I work with the World Health Organization Ghana country office as the National Professional Officer for Malaria. My work entails technical support to the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) in collaboration with other health and development partners in malaria control.

I also coordinate the Malaria Vaccine Decision-Making Framework process in Ghana, together with the NMCP. The Decision-Making Framework is a tool that assists countries in identifying data needs and processes required for decisions on the use of a successful malaria vaccine candidate. Information-sharing, facilitation of policy dialogues, advisory support, and advocacy are the main requirements for this coordination.

In June 2011, our technical advisory group meeting had the participation of parliamentarians for the first time, something I attribute to the advocacy skills I acquired. This development led to positive political engagement with the parliamentarians and a greater willingness on their part to assist in solving some of the challenges faced by the trial teams. The parliamentarians also expressed interest in participating in working group sessions.

I have learned a number of lessons as an advocate:

  • We assume that our policymakers understand scientific language the way we do; however, they need information to be delivered in a simplified, rational manner.
  • Advocacy skills are important for scientists. These skills ensure that some of the important research findings are translated into policies and interventions—and in good time.
  • Policymakers will never endorse an initiative with which they are not comfortable. It is important to engage them early enough for their buy-in.
  • Scarcity of resources makes policymakers very pragmatic. Therefore, the cost-effectiveness of any initiative or intervention should be the advocate’s major focus, clearly demonstrating that saving lives also translates into wealth.

Dr. Felicia Owusu-Antwi is the National Professional Officer for Malaria at WHO’s Ghana country office.

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