African health ministers lay claim to research
“Health research is a must” – Minister Eyitayo Lambo, Nigeria. “There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come” – Minister Courage Quashigah, Ghana.
SUMMARY:Africa is taking the lead in an intercontinental effort to create a new, indigenous agenda for health research, relevant to policy-making and action – and to apply the results of proven science
African ministers of health are re-evaluating, valuing, and taking ownership of health research on their continent - in a remarkable development spearheaded by ministers Eyitayo Lambo of Nigeria and the Courage E. K. Quashigah of Ghana.
Lambo in paarticular has a deep interest in health research [see our interview “Research and politics need a marriage” in RealHealthNews 3, 2005 pp 15-18], and in a series of meetings beginning in Abuja in December 2005, he invited WHO, WHO-AFRO, the special Programme of Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) and others to assist in creating a high-level ministerial approach to health research, in Africa and beyond.
This moved quickly to a scene- and goal-setting ministerial meeting of 11 African nations in Abuja in March, and will culminate in a 25-nation, intercontinental meeting hosted by Quashigah in Accra in June – chosen to coincide with the annual Joint Coordinating Board Meeting of TDR, at which the Programme will discuss issues associated with its development of long-term strategy for health research [see this issue pp 25-28].
Lambo said health research "is a must" to identify what kind of health system is needed and how to use the little money available in the best way. "Until we do that, we will go around in a vicious cycle of poverty and illness. We are paying the price of this with rising illness and death among pregnant women and children."
And many key results in health research already exist which could be more widely adapted and applied, ministers heard – such as the Tanzania Essential Health Interventions Project (TEHIP) which according to data presented in March had reduced under-five mortality in one district, Rufiji, by 52% from 1990-2003.
In a technical “synthesis” report to the meeting, ministers heard that key areas for research in Africa include infectious diseases including HIV, TB and malaria; “neglected” tropical diseases and emerging diseases; reproductive and sexual health; non-communicable diseases such as the rising levels of cardio-vascular disease, cancer, and injuries, and sickle cell disease; malnutrition; and mental health including drug and substance abuse.
Apart from limited funding, said the report, challenges facing health research in Africa include:
Research not focusing on major contributors to disease burden.
A weak link from research to policy and action.
A lack of coordination between health institutions and research networks.
Inadequate participation of stakeholders in the research, policy and implementation process.
And along with raising resources African objectives should include, said the report:
Highlighting the importance of research to meet the MDGs.
Defining key areas of research needed regionally and internationally - especially for diseases of poverty.
Clarifying the research capacity of Africa and the best ways to employ it, nationally, regionally and internationally.
Capitalising on opportunities, partnerships and networks, including the NEPAD health strategy and the Mexico Statement on Health Research.
Learning lessons from best practices, such as research-led interventions like impregnated bednets – which linked research, meta-analysis of studies, cost-effectiveness studies, acceptability studies, target definition and translation into policy.
Charles Mwansambo, chair of the national health services research and ethics committee, representing the minister of health in Malawi said: "Usually it's the funding agency which determines which way we go, but we can do this."
"We must take advantage of new technologies and successful intervention programs and adapt them to our culture" said Oladapo Ladipo from the African Network for Research and Training in Reproductive Health and HIV (REPRONET-Africa). " Africa has to wake up to solve its own problems."
“There's nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come," said Quashigah. -RW