Health research essential for progress on universal health coverage
The World Health Report 2013, launched in Beijing today by Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, focuses on the need for more local research for tailored approaches to providing universal health coverage. It identifies the benefits of increased investment in health research by low- and middle-income countries through case studies from around the world, and proposes ways to further strengthen this type of research.
“Universal coverage is the best way to cement the health gains made during the previous decade. It is a powerful social equalizer and the ultimate expression of fairness.”
Dr Chan Director-General of WHO, Beijing
The report reveals that, on average, domestic investment in research in low- and middle-income countries has been growing 5% each year. This trend is most visible in emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India, all of which have embraced the concept of universal health coverage.
Local research key
Case studies from a range of countries, including Germany, Malawi and Somalia, demonstrate the importance of local and global research for improving health, ranging from the prevention and control of specific diseases to better functioning of health systems.
One example cited is the research on insecticide treated bednets against malaria. The principle of their effectiveness was demonstrated by TDR supported multinational trials, and their value is now unquestionable. However, TDR Director John Reeder says, “The effectiveness of bednets in practice is dependent on understanding the local health systems to ensure efficient delivery and use. It is this type of operational research questions that we need to support.”
The report also shows that more health research is being published as a result of international collaboration. Scientists from low- and middle-income countries are increasingly engaged in these collaborations, although high-income countries continue to play a prominent role in most studies. China is one example: from 2000 to 2010 the global share of Chinese researchers as co-authors on published research increased from 5% to 13%. Brazil, India and other countries have also increased their participation in published research. First authorship from low- and middle-income countries has now rised to 70% on TDR supported research. However, although research is increasing overall, growth is uneven.
“All nations should be producers as well as consumers of research. The creativity and skill of researchers is the backbone of academic and public health programs.”
Dr Christopher Dye, Director, Office of Health Information
HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases and lead author of the report
To meet the challenges, WHO is encouraging international donors and national governments not only to invest in research, but also to support mechanisms for sharing information and data, to strengthen research training and institutions, and to measure progress against their own commitment to achieving universal health coverage.
A number of new activities have been started at TDR to address this need:
- The SORT IT programme runs workshops combined with mentorship for health workers in disease control programmes. These help them use the information they routinely gather to form practical research questions, analyse the available data and produce scientific publications and policy briefs to improve health services.
- IMPACT grants target trained researchers and support their engagement with local health problems, rather than just academic pursuit.
- A tool-box for training in operational research is being used to improve skills for using research evidence to improve health policy.
The report is accompanied by an editorial in Science Translational Medicine co-authored by the World Health Report lead author Christopher Dye, TDR Director John Reeder, and Robert F. Terry from WHO’s Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property department.
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