Monitoring equity and research policy

Building the field of health policy and systems research: An agenda for action
Bennett S, Agyepong IA, Sheikh K, Hanson K, Ssengooba F et al. PLoS Medicine 8(8), 30 August 2011

This is the third of a series of three papers addressing the current challenges and opportunities for the development of Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR). The authors of this paper assert that there is an urgent need to build the Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR) field and in particular to develop understanding across different disciplinary boundaries. The development of HPSR is impeded by a cluster of related issues: a heavy reliance on international funding for HPSR; an excessive focus on the direct utility of HPSR findings from specific studies; and a tendency to under-value contributions to HPSR from social sciences. Innovations in funding HPSR are needed so that local actors, including policy-makers, civil society, and researchers, have a greater say in determining the nature of HPSR conducted. Strategic investment should be made in promoting a greater shared understanding of theoretical frames and methodological approaches for HPSR including, for example, the development of HPSR journals, methodological workshops, and shared HPSR teaching curricula. Dedicated and supportive homes for HPSR need to be found within universities, and also be developed as independent research institutes, the authors conclude.

Building the field of health policy and systems research: Framing the questions
Sheikh K, Gilson L, Agyepong IA, Hanson K, Ssengooba F et al: PLoS Medicine 8(8), 16 August 2011

This is the first of a series of three papers addressing the current challenges and opportunities for the development of Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR). HPSR is a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary field identified by the topics and scope of questions asked rather than by methodology. The focus of discussion is HPSR in low- and middle-income countries. Topics of research in HPSR include international, national, and local health systems and their interconnectivities, and policies made and implemented at all levels of the health system. Research questions in HPSR vary by the level of analysis (macro, meso, and micro) and intent of the question (normative/evaluative or exploratory/explanatory). Current heightened attention on HPSR contains significant opportunities, but also threats in the form of certain focus areas and questions being privileged over others; “disciplinary capture” of the field by the dominant health research traditions; and premature and inappropriately narrow definitions. The authors call for greater attention to fundamental, exploratory, and explanatory types of HPSR; to the significance of the field for societal and national development, necessitating HPSR capacity building in low- and middle-income countries; and for greater literacy and application of a wide spectrum of methodologies.

Building the field of health policy and systems research: Social science matters
Gilson L, Hanson K, Sheikh K, Agyepong IA, Ssengooba F et al: PLoS Medicine 8(8), 23 August 2011

This is the second of a series of three papers addressing the current challenges and opportunities for the development of Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR). According to this paper, all researchers hold a knowledge paradigm that frames their understanding of reality and of the functions and nature of research. Some disciplines are dominated by a particular paradigm and some are spread across paradigms. The criticisms that Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR) is too context specific, does not offer clear lessons for policy makers, and is not rigorous are partly a reflection of differences in knowledge paradigms between those with predominantly clinical, biomedical, and epidemiological backgrounds, underpinned by a positivist paradigm, and those with social science backgrounds underpinned by a relativist paradigm. Health policies and systems are complex social and political phenomena, constructed by human action rather than naturally occurring. Therefore, the authors argue, relativist social science perspectives are of particular relevance to HPSR as they recognise that all phenomena are in essence constructed through human behaviour and interpretation. Social science insights that can advance the science of HPSR include: approaches to generalising from rich understanding of context; supporting policy learning; and enhancing research rigour and quality.

Burden of disease analyses in developing countries: Implications for health system policy, planning and management
Global Health Forum for Health Research

Methods to measure the burden of disease (BOD) on populations have been applied for decades, but have only received increasing attention in the past twenty years. During this period of time, a number of concerns have been raised with the use of summary measures of population health. This report summarises the lessons learned from seven BOD studies funded by the Global Forum for Health Research.

Can a R&D tax credit expand investment in product development for global health?
Rao A: Results for Development Institute, 28 February 2011

This paper identifies some of the advantages and disadvantages of a global health research and development (R&D) tax credit and considers whether it would succeed in increasing the overall volume of global health R&D. In his analysis, the author remains uncertain whether the tax could increase pharmaceutical firms’ return on investments for global health products with small commercial markets or if it could bring down the costs of philanthropic research and help maintain private sector participation in global health. Since there are minimal profits to be reaped from charitable research and benefits, a tax credit is unlikely to appeal to many firms who are not already interested in supporting global health, the author argues. His findings suggest that a global health tax credit is unlikely to result in significantly more or better global health R&D, but he emphasises the limitations of his research, calling for more research into existing fiscal incentives for R&D to clarify the decision-making process that drives global health research in pharmaceutical firms.

CAO audit of a sample of IFC investments in third-party financial intermediaries
Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO): 10 October 2012

In this audit of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private lending arm, the CAO found that the IFC has processed most of its investments in compliance with the organisation’s own environmental and social policy requirements, but it was difficult to make an accurate assessment of the actual impact of the projects it invested in. Despite outward appearances, the CAO argues that many Social and Environmental Management Systems (SEMSs) for development projects have become mere window dressing, rather than a genuine means to improved environmental and social (E&S) outcomes on the ground. At the same time, the IFC’s E&S procedures and impact assessment measurements are not optimally designed to support broader environmental and social outcomes. To achieve those broader objectives, the IFC would need to focus on facilitating a self-sustaining cultural change within client organisations, raising their level of understanding and management of environmental and social risk. This implies a more sophisticated approach to the analysis of client commitment, and interventions that align E&S issues with relevant business and socioeconomic drivers of change, rather than focusing on systems compliance. It would also require a systematic methodology for measuring impact at the subclient level.

Capacity development for health research in Africa: Experiences managing the African Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship Programme
Kabiru CW, Izugbara CO, Wambugu SW and Ezeh AC: Health Research Policy and Systems 8(21), 29 June 2010

Africa's progress depends on her capacity to generate, adapt, and use scientific knowledge to meet regional health and development needs. Yet, according to this paper, Africa's higher education institutions that are mandated to foster this capacity lack adequate resources to generate and apply knowledge, raising the need for innovative approaches to enhance research capacity. The paper describes a newly developed programme to support PhD research in health and population sciences at African universities: the African Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship (ADDRF) Programme. It documents the authors’ experiences implementing the programme. As health research capacity-strengthening in Africa continues to attract attention and as the need for such programmes to be African-led is emphasised, the authors propose that their experiences in developing and implementing the ADDRF may offer invaluable lessons to other institutions undertaking similar initiatives.

Capacity for Health Policy and Systems Research and Analysis in seven African universities
Mirzoev T, Le G, Kalliecharan R, Agyepong I, Erasmus E, Goudge J, Kamuzora P et al: November 2012

The Consortium for Health Policy and Systems Analysis in Africa (CHEPSAA) project (2011-2014) is a four-year collaboration between seven African and four European universities aimed at strengthening the capacity of universities in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa to: produce high quality health policy and systems research (HPSR); provide HPSR training; engage with networks; and communicate research into policy and practice. In this presentation given at the Second Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in November 2012, the authors present the results of their study to evaluate the performance of CHEPSAA and to evaluate HPSR capacity in the seven universities. The university-based institutes were found to share a vision for HPSR that relates to wider institutional purpose. While structures and processes to support HPSR exist, and HPSR ‘champions’ were identified in the study, the authors found these were undermined by succession challenges. Staff shortages were problematic, especially among especially senior staff. The institutes also exhibited different income patterns including unpredictable external funding. The authors conclude that local universities are central to strengthening HPSR capacity in Africa and CHEPSAA African partners already have sufficient capacity to build upon; however, HSPR in Africa is still an emerging field that needs support.

Casebook on ethical issues in international health research
Cash R, Wikler D, Saxena A and Capron A (eds): World Health Organization, 2009

This compilation of case studies in research ethics is designed for use by course instructors and workshop leaders. The editors argue that the use of case studies in workshops and formal courses is an especially valuable teaching tool, as students and workshop participants can grapple with ethical dilemmas and uncertainties in concrete situations. The editors have collected 64 case studies, based on episodes that have occurred in global health research throughout the world. Eight chapters comprise the cases un¬der the following titles: Defining research; Issues in study design; Harm and benefit; Voluntary informed consent; Standard of care; Obligations to participants and communities; Privacy and confidential¬ity; and Professional ethics. Each chapter begins with an introduction that outlines the issues and provides some guidance for the topics addressed in the cases, and ends with a brief annotated list of suggested readings. Questions for discussion follow each case. In each chapter there is cross-referencing to cases in other chapters.

Challenges facing National Health Research Systems in the WHO African Region
Kirigia JM, Ovberedjo MO: African Journal of Health Sciences 14(3-4): 100-103, 2007

Many countries in the African region do not have functional national health research systems (NHRS) that generate, disseminate, uses, and archives health-related knowledge/ideas in published form (hard, electronic or audio forms). In such countries, death of each modern or traditional health practitioner constitutes a permanent loss of a library of knowledge, ideas, innovations and inventions. The WHO African Advisory Committee on Health Research and Development (AACHRD) has attributed the fragility of NHRS in the Region to poor environment for research, inadequate manpower, inadequate infrastructures and facilities, inaccessibility to modern technology, and lack of funds. The weak and uncoordinated NHRS partly explain the poor overall performance of majority of national health systems in the Region. Continued fragility of NHRS can be attributed to lack of implementation of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa and the World Health Assembly resolutions on health research. This paper urges African countries, to fully implement the contents of those resolutions, for substantive health research outputs to share with the rest of the world at the next Ministerial Summit on Research for Health, which will take place in the African Region in 2008.