Partnerships to address critical health issues

Dr Garry Aslanyan, TDR Manager of Partnerships and Governance

Garry Aslanyan

Partnership is key to TDR’s success. We could only accomplish what has been done by working with others. This has been a main tenent throughout our history, and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed by United Nations members even have a goal focused on this: Goal 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

Since TDR’s establishment in the 1970s, many global health initiatives have been created. This interest and support is greatly appreciated, but it brings new challenges of coherence and synergy. How do we make sure we aren’t duplicating services? How do multiple agencies and institutions agree on global health priorities?

At TDR, we have discussed and analysed this a great deal, and have developed principles and a methodology to help guide us in the types of partnerships we seek and those we are offered. These can be partnerships of research, or funding, or a range of technical cooperation agreements. We use these principles and methodology to assess the coherence and alignment with what we are trying to do. The goal is to have a greater impact than what we could do alone.

Caption: SDG 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Caption: SDG 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Credit: UN

I’d like to share with you how TDR uses this framework with a few examples.

The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa raised issues of the ethics of conducting research in a complex environment, community engagement and local research capacity. The European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) specializes in clinical trials in Africa, and TDR has experience in community-based projects and implementation research. Together, we agreed to address the questions raised in this outbreak through a joint grant programme.

We are funding research conducted by scientists living in 6 sub-Saharan countries to conduct high quality health research during health emergencies and/or epidemic outbreaks. So together, we are solving important research questions while strengthening the capacity of those countries to find and test local solutions – this is a key goal of TDR.

The spread of the Zika virus in the Americas identified gaps in monitoring and surveillance, and sharing information across countries. The transmission of the mosquito vector, the role of reproductive health and behavior and the resilience of the surveillance systems all played a role in the outbreak. TDR partnered with the World Health Organization’s regional office of the Americas (the Pan American Health Organization) and the Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction to bring our knowledge and strengths together.

This resulted in a grant programme to foster regional, national and institutional knowledge sharing and networking. The 17 grantees are identifying solutions to address the Zika virus in 7 Latin American countries. The projects range from identifying transmission risk factors to evaluating diagnostic tools and examining the use of prenatal counseling and contraceptives.

Social innovation is another type of TDR partnership. Social innovation engages communities in grassroots actions that can develop sustainable solutions. TDR provided start-up funding to begin research into what works and what does not, through the new Social Innovation in Health Initiative.

This is a collaboration initiated with the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Partnership is extended to research institutions in low- and middle-countries and to international organizations. The goal is to create new social innovation research hubs within this initiative that are funded from a variety of sources.

These are just a few examples of how we are building on successful partnerships to improve the health of people in the most vulnerable situations. The principles and processes behind how we identify potential partnerships and conduct them can be found in our strategy, which has just been updated for 2018-23. I encourage you to find out more, and I’d be happy to discuss any ideas you have for new collaborations.


Please contact me at aslanyang@who.int