Bloom’s route from Africa to China

Gerald Bloom is a rather unusual kind of researcher. He has a strong interest in policy and in effecting real change. He started work in Zimbabwe in 1981, just at the time of the post-colonial settlement and when majority rule was beginning.

“I was involved with the first situation analysis and strategising for the new government” Bloom told RealHealthNews. “It was an extremely exciting time, and with a great deal of hope for implementing change. Health and health services improved substantially for a number of years, although these improvements have not been sustained. That experience very much influenced how I saw the relationship between research and policy.

“I saw the key was the willingness of the new government to implement change and take the needs of the poor seriously. Research played an important role essentially to document the problem, but also try to assess the outcomes of different reform options. That was what was hoped. Of course in Zimbabwe, we all know what’s happened, and there’s a lot of disappointment.”

Bloom was then offered a job at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex in the UK.

“This enabled me to understand health systems in their broader context. But my early experience in Zimbabwe influenced how I thought about China when I had the opportunity to become engaged there, and from very early on I was fascinated by how government and others were trying to cope with such rapid change.”

“Personally I found fascinating the role that an outsider could play – which is actually to be able to ask the stupid questions that no-one inside even thought of asking. And that, probably, was the biggest role of my colleagues and me. We worked with a team from Shanghai, and, initially, our main job was to ask some questions and say, what does this really mean, what’s really going on, and I found that extremely interesting.”

Bloom is now a research fellow in the Knowledge, Society and Technology Team at IDS, in the Health and Social Change Programme.