In the context of COVID-19, this paper outlines how health policy and systems research (HPSR) can both address current short-term challenges, and support the system transformations needed to strengthen people-centred and equitable health systems over the long term. Due to the acute nature of the pandemic, few papers have yet focused on how health systems are coping with or adapting to the pandemic, or how health policy-making and decision-making has (or has not) changed in this time of crisis. This paper makes proposals for a structured research agenda to inform health policy and system responses to COVID-19 that can move us beyond the current crisis, and into the future, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries.
Monitoring equity and research policy
In this article the authors argue that many African governments have so far responded more proactively and effectively to Covid-19 than some governments in high income countries (HICs). Much of this capacity to respond effectively can be explained by an existing culture of using evidence to inform policy decision-making. African researchers are producing evidence on how to protect and prioritise already existing health interventions which can increase health system resilience and preparedness for Covid-19. The authors argue that African nations have generated and used evidence for decision- making on solutions to tackle the pandemic. Data-poverty and technology deficits are a challenge. The authors note that partnerships to assist with production, collation, and use of evidence are appearing nationally, regionally, and globally to support quick but measured evidence-informed decisions.
In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic a collective of organisations have taken urgent action to collate useful guidance and resources related to research ethics. The resources are organized under the following categories: general guidance, social justice, health systems strengthening, preparedness, care and resource rationing, emergency powers, health care worker wellbeing, gender, quarantine and other mandatory measures, clinical trails, guidance for funders and other resource collections.
To understand better both impact of and responses to COVID-19, UN Women is recommending stand-alone surveys or integration of questions on violence against women in socio-economic and gender surveys to assess the prevalence and responses to gender based violence during COVID-19. This data is argued to be critical to support evidence-based interventions and to make available lifesaving services. UN Women in East and Southern Africa is working closely with the partner agencies and providing technical support to develop model surveys and guidelines to support quality assessments. This briefing also provides case study analyses of gendered effects of COVID-19 in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.
This paper presents an evaluation of the current capacity of the national health information systems in Mozambique, and the available indicators to monitor health inequalities, in line with Sustainable Development Goals 3. A data source mapping of the health information system in Mozambique was conducted. Eight data sources contain health information to measure and monitor progress towards health equity in line with the 27 Sustainable Development Goal 3 indicators. Seven indicators bear information with nationally funded data sources, ten with data sources externally funded, and ten indicators either lack information or it does not applicable for the matter of the study. None of the 27 indicators associated with Sustainable Development Goal 3 can be fully disaggregated by equity stratifiers; they either lack some information or do not have information at all. The indicators that contain more information are related to maternal and child health. The authors report that there are important information gaps in Mozambique’s current national health information system which prevents it from being able to comprehensively measure and monitor health equity.
Health facility data are a critical source of local and continuous health statistics. Countries have introduced web-based information systems that facilitate data management, analysis, use and visualisation of health facility data. Working with teams of Ministry of Health and country public health institutions analysts from 14 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, the authors explored data quality using national-level and subnational-level (mostly district) data for the period 2013–2017. The focus was on endline analysis where reported health facility and other data are compiled, assessed and adjusted for data quality, primarily to inform planning and assessments of progress and performance. The analyses showed that although completeness of reporting was generally high, there were persistent data quality issues that were common across the 14 countries, especially at the subnational level. These included the presence of extreme outliers, lack of consistency of the reported data over time and between indicators (such as vaccination and antenatal care), and challenges related to projected target populations, which are used as denominators in the computation of coverage statistics. The authors propose continuous efforts to improve recording and reporting of events by health facilities, systematic examination and reporting of data quality issues, feedback and communication mechanisms between programme managers, care providers and data officers, and transparent corrections and adjustments will be critical. to improve the quality of health statistics generated from health facility data.
his study aimed to estimate the 2015 national and subnational universal health coverage service coverage (UHC) status for Ethiopia. The UHC service coverage index was constructed from indicators of four major categories using survey data and administrative data. The overall Ethiopian UHC service coverage for 2015 was 34.3%, ranging from 52.2% in Addis Ababa city to 10% in the Afar region. The coverage for non-communicable diseases, reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health and infectious diseases were 35%, 37.5% and 52.8%, respectively. The national UHC service capacity and access coverage was only 20% with large variations across regions, ranging from 3.7% in the Somali region to 41.1% in the Harari region. The 2015 overall UHC service coverage for Ethiopia was low compared with most of the other countries in the region. There was a substantial variation among regions. The authors argue that Ethiopia should rapidly scale up promotive, preventive and curative health services through increasing investment in primary healthcare if it aims to reach the UHC service coverage goals, and to narrow the gap across regions, such as through redistribution of the health workforce, increasing resources allocated to health and providing focused technical and financial support to low-performing regions.
Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 13.5% of the global population but less than 1% of global research output. In 2008, Africa produced 27 000 published papers—the same number as The Netherlands. Informed by a nuanced understanding of the causes of the current scenario, the authors propose action that should be taken by African universities, governments, and development partners to foster the development of research-active universities on the continent. Sub-Saharan Africa depends greatly on international collaboration and visiting academics for its research output. Many researchers whose publications are associated with sub-Saharan Africa are described as non-local and transitory; they spend less than 2 years at sub-Saharan African institutions. Meanwhile, intra-Africa collaboration remains severely restricted. The authors note that research-intensive universities across sub-Saharan Africa need to be identified, recognised, strengthened, and invested in. These research-intensive universities should focus their resources on graduate training and research. Creating and maintaining research-intensive universities will require consistent investment in human capital, research equipment, and relevant administrative support, at far higher levels than is available under current conditions. New funding mechanisms need to be created to support research-intensive Africa universities. At a minimum, research-intensive universities should commit their own resources to research. African Governments must increase their support for research in general and provide targeted funding for research-intensive universities. They suggest that this will only succeed and be sustained if there is accountability, transparency, and efficiency in the use of funds at research-intensive universities.
Over the past two decades, Africa has returned to academic agendas outside of the continent. At the same time, the field of African Studies has come under increasing criticism for its marginalisation of African voices, interests, and agendas. This article explores how the complex transformations of the academy have contributed to a growing division of labour. Increasingly, African scholarship is associated with the production of empirical fact and socio-economic impact rather than theory, with ostensibly local rather than international publication, and with other forms of disadvantage that undermine respectful exchange and engagement. This discourages engagement with Africa as a place of intellectual production in its own right. By arguing that scholars can and should make a difference to their field, both individually and collectively, the author suggests ways of understanding and engaging with these inequalities.
In 2018, Ifakara Health Institute disseminated results emerging from the formative study for Children In the Mining (CIM) seeking to improve access to social- economic and health services for children living in the mining areas in Bukombe, Songwe and Chunya districts of Tanzania. Using an action-based approach, members of the Kerezia community involved reflected on the findings and developed a plan of action to address the social-economic problems that face children living in the mining areas. The villagers prioritized water, roads and schooling. A while later the villagers reported to the IHI researchers: "We are happy to tell you that one of our priorities has been implemented and through the efforts of community members, we have constructed a foundation for the primary school here in our village [........] I was really wondering how I could see you and inform you about this progress." The Kerezia story is argued to highlight how scientists need to go beyond the traditional methods of sharing research findings and apply action-based dissemination where possible to influence change at the grass roots.