Tributes to the Late Doctor Bart Jacobs

On the 15th of January 2021, our friend and colleague, Dr Bart Jacobs, died tragically in Cambodia where he lived with his wife and two children.  He will always be remembered for his commitment to transforming health systems and making health care available to all, especially the poor.

We have collected some tributes from friends and colleagues of Dr Bart Jacobs below and have compiled a Bart Jacobs Tribute Research Collection of his published papers in Health Policy and Planning.

I and many friends and colleagues in Cambodia were deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Dr. Bart Jacobs. Bart was born in Vilvoorde, Belgium but lived and worked in South-East Asia for over two decades. Much of this time he spent in Cambodia, working with the government and various development partners, including the German international development agency GIZ. In Cambodia, he was not only a recognised public health professional and academic, but also a good friend to all who had the pleasure of working with him. His years of dedicated work as a public health programme manager and researcher have greatly contributed to the development and improvement of the Cambodian health system. He was a principal founder of Buddhism for Health, a Cambodian religious-based non-governmental organization that mobilizes community resources to help poor people access health care. In recognition of his significant contribution to the social welfare of the Cambodian people, Bart was recently conferred with the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Monisaraphon by His Majesty Samdech Preah Boramaneath NORODOM SIHAMONI, the King of Cambodia. I have had the pleasure of working with Bart on various research projects and we have published a number of scientific papers together in the fields of health policy and health systems, in particular, on health financing and financial protection. I first got to know Bart when we worked on the implementation and evaluation of the Health Equity Fund, a health financing scheme enabling poor people to access health care. We became good friends when we pursued our PhDs together at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium. His two-year connection with the National Institute of Public Health (NIPH), where I am now based, strengthened our bond not only as colleagues but also as close friends. During these two years, Bart significantly contributed to individual and institutional capacity building at NIPH and has left his mark on all of us. His compassion and loving heart towards all Cambodians will always be remembered. In this saddest moment, we would like to extend our sincerest condolences to his beloved family for the loss of their most respectful and loving husband and father.

Dr Por Ir, PhD
Associate Professor and Deputy Director, National Institute of Public Health, Cambodia

Once upon a time, in Kirivong, I met a gentleman with sparkling eyes and a permanent smile. His name was Bart Jacobs.

It was in 2004, when I arrived in Cambodia to work as a health financing adviser at WHO Country Office in Phnom Penh. Everyone told me I should meet Bart Jacobs, who then worked for the Swiss Red Cross in Takeo. But before I could organize to get in touch, I received a phone call: he was in Phnom Penh and he offered to meet for a drink. He was faster. I later learned that this was pretty much was summed up Bart’s personality: always faster, always sharper, always ahead of all of us when it came to health systems and health financing in Cambodia.

Other tributes have summarized his degrees, professional and personal achievements. They are impressive. But even more impressive was his commitment to the people of Cambodia; to the poorest, the most vulnerable, the modest, smiling, hardworking Cambodia. That is what I discovered when I finally went to Kirivong for the first time, to take part with him at a flowering ceremony in a pagoda, where Buddhism for Health collected money to support access to health services for the poor. We met with the monks and the elders, I witnessed the power of this grassroot organization to help people in need at local level; and seeing him there, living a simple life and managing targeted operational projects on the ground, I could never imagine that he would write the papers he wrote. District health systems in South-East Asia are now forever associated with Bart Jacob’s account of successful interventions in Kirivong.

Over the years, we had many great laughs and a few fights too, when we struggled through a project or a paper. We wrote a few articles together, over which we fought some more, and then laughed at each other and at ourselves. I co-authored the paper that he used as a conceptual framework in his PhD and he co-authored mine. With Bart, nothing was serious but everything was important, especially when it came to protecting people from hardship and ill health. He was on a crusade, he did not deviate from his course, always with that smile and that stubborn drive which made him the purest of us all, global health workers.

We will miss you Jaco. Although we worked and lived in different countries since a decade now, I can’t imagine a world where I cannot sit with you and reinvent health systems built around and for the most vulnerable. Your memory will keep us going, for you, my friend, would never leave anyone behind.

Maryam Bigdeli
WHO Representative to Morocco

Those of us who had the pleasure of working with Bart know that to work with him also meant being a friend. He was always fun to be around and his cheeky grin is something few will forget. His thirst and curiosity for knowledge were infectious. Bart will also be remembered for his uncanny ability to straddle the worlds of health programme delivery and academia. He understood the complexities of working in global health and cleverly navigated the many, often competing agendas at play. Bart was an expert in agitating for change when he thought things were unfair or could be done better.

I had the pleasure of working with Bart on a number of health financing studies in the Asia-Pacific and it became apparent very early on that, despite being incredibly modest, he knew an awful lot about epidemiology, economics, health policy, health systems, and many other fields of research. He was in his element when conducting impactful, policy-relevant, multi-disciplinary research with partners from all around the world. While Bart’s research interests were diverse, ranging from access to medicines to the role of Health Equity Funds, a common theme emerged throughout his career which was improving access to health care by the poor. His research helped push forward the agenda for financial protection in health, especially in Cambodia where he was adept at bringing together decision-makers and analysts to consider the evidence on what interventions and policies worked best.

Bart was a very good friend to Health Policy and Planning. Below is only a snapshot of his contributions to our journal. He began publishing with us in 1999 and his last paper appeared very recently, in August 2020. While Bart always denied to me that he was an ‘academic’, many academics would envy his record in publishing and policy impact. Bart was not only a well-respected author, but he also reviewed many papers for our journal. He rarely rejected an invitation to review, often doing a review in the wee hours of the morning before starting his morning trek to work. While many of us are left with a great emptiness both professionally and personally, we can take heed in the vast legacy of research and lessons that this very unique, passionate, and hard-working man has left behind.

Dr Virginia Wiseman, PhD
Professor of Health Economics & Health Systems
Chair of Health Economics & Health Systems, Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Co-Editor-in-Chief of Health Policy and Planning

Bart Jacobs Tribute Collection

Feasibility of hospital-based blood banking: a Tanzanian case study 
Bart Jacobs, Alec Mercer
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 14, Issue 4, 1999, Pages 354-362,
Published: 01 December 1999

Community participation in externally funded health projects: lessons from Cambodia 
Bart Jacobs, Neil Price
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 18, Issue 4, December 2003, Pages 399–410,
Published: 01 December 2003

The impact of the introduction of user fees at a district hospital in Cambodia 
Bart Jacobs, Neil Price
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 19, Issue 5, September 2004, Pages 310–321,
Published: 01 September 2004

Improving access for the poorest to public sector health services: insights from Kirivong Operational Health District in Cambodia 
Bart Jacobs, Neil Price
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 21, Issue 1, January 2006, Pages 27–39,
Published: 17 November 2005

Improving access to hospital care for the poor: comparative analysis of four health equity funds in Cambodia 
Mathieu Noirhomme, Bruno Meessen, Fred Griffiths, Por Ir, Bart Jacobs, Rasoka Thor, Bart Criel, Wim Van Damme
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 22, Issue 4, July 2007, Pages 246–262,
Published: 25 May 2007

From public to private and back again: sustaining a high service-delivery level during transition of management authority: a Cambodia case study 
Bart Jacobs, Jean-Marc Thomé, Rob Overtoom, Sam Oeun Sam, Lorenz Indermühle, Neil Price
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 25, Issue 3, May 2010, Pages 197–208,
Published: 16 November 2009

Addressing access barriers to health services: an analytical framework for selecting appropriate interventions in low-income Asian countries 
Bart Jacobs, Por Ir, Maryam Bigdeli, Peter Leslie Annear, Wim Van Damme
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 27, Issue 4, July 2012, Pages 288–300,
Published: 12 May 2011

Access to medicines from a health system perspective 
Maryam Bigdeli, Bart Jacobs, Goran Tomson, Richard Laing, Abdul Ghaffar, Bruno Dujardin, Wim Van Damme
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 28, Issue 7, October 2013, Pages 692–704,
Published: 22 November 2012

Equality in financial access to healthcare in Cambodia from 2004 to 2014 
Adélio Fernandes Antunes, Bart Jacobs, Richard de Groot, Kouland Thin, Piya Hanvoravongchai, Steffen Flessa
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 33, Issue 8, October 2018, Pages 906–919,
Published: 27 August 2018

Financial protection and equity of access to health services with the free maternal and child health initiative in Lao PDR 
Somil Nagpal, Emiko Masaki, Eko Setyo Pambudi, Bart Jacobs
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 34, Issue Supplement_1, October 2019, Pages i14–i25,
Published: 23 October 2019

Transforming health systems financing in Lower Mekong: making sure the poor are not left behind 
Augustine D Asante, Bart Jacobs, Virginia Wiseman
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 34, Issue Supplement_1, October 2019, Pages i1–i3,
Published: 23 October 2019

Exploring the determinants of distress health financing in Cambodia 
Por Ir, Bart Jacobs, Augustine D Asante, Marco Liverani, Stephen Jan, Srean Chhim, Virginia Wiseman
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 34, Issue Supplement_1, October 2019, Pages i26–i37,
Published: 23 October 2019

Who benefits from healthcare spending in Cambodia? Evidence for a universal health coverage policy 
Augustine D Asante, Por Ir, Bart Jacobs, Limwattananon Supon, Marco Liverani, Andrew Hayen, Stephen Jan, Virginia Wiseman
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 34, Issue Supplement_1, October 2019, Pages i4–i13,
Published: 23 October 2019

Can social accountability improve access to free public health care for the poor? Analysis of three Health Equity Fund configurations in Cambodia, 2015–17 
Bart Jacobs, Sam Sam Oeun, Por Ir, Susan Rifkin, Wim Van Damme
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 35, Issue 6, July 2020, Pages 635–645,
Published: 03 May 2020

Cross-border medical travels from Cambodia: pathways to care, associated costs and equity implications 
Marco Liverani, Por Ir, Bart Jacobs, Augustine Asante, Stephen Jan, Supheap Leang,Nicola Man, Andrew Hayen, Virginia Wiseman
Health Policy and Planning, Volume 35, Issue 8, October 2020, Pages 1011–1020,
Published: 16 August 2020