From ‘No Health Without Research’ to ‘Research for Health’ – World Health Report 2012

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Guest blog by Tikki Pang, Director, Research Policy & Cooperation, World Health Organization.

In a blog posted on January 25, 2011 I proposed that ministers of health in developing countries must strive to strengthen health research in their countries by addressing several key questions, which will be the focus of the World Health Report 2012:

How should research priorities be set? What human and institutional capacities are needed? How to ensure ethical and good behaviour? How to promote transparency and accountability? How should knowledge be translated into action? What is the best way to coordinate research among the many performing it, and when so many health challenges involve sectors beyond health?

In the past 10 months we have run these ideas past a series of interested party consultations in order to gauge the validity of the focus and scope of the Report. While the central theme remains solidly relevant and important, two additional areas have been included to broaden the appeal, and potential value, of the Report.

First, there is a perception that the target audience should broaden. At the end of the day there are fewer than 200 ministers of health in the whole world and perhaps the Report should be aiming at a broader group of national health (and health research) policymakers. In many developing countries, where ministers of health are often short-lived political appointees, targeting the Report at decision- and policy-makers in executive, operational, leadership and managerial positions would seem to be a sensible approach. Importantly, this broader outreach should go beyond ministries of health as research funding is often controlled by other, more powerful ministries such as science & technology, finance and education.

Second, and while continuing to advocate for the importance of research in diagnosing the problem, deciding on appropriate interventions and relevant scale-up strategies, it was felt that we also needed to convey some excitement about science and research. We will therefore aim to show how research can contribute new insights by including some examples of emerging research issues with potential impacts on health including innovative technologies (e.g. advances in genomics, personalized medicine, stem cell therapy, etc), zoonotic diseases, climate change, agriculture and health.

These two additional dimensions underscore the subtle but important shift from ‘No Health Without Research’ to ‘Research for Health’ thus acknowledging that health, and the role of research, has become very multi-dimensional and inter-sectoral in nature and a broader, more inclusive approach is thus necessary.

The World Health Organization is continuing its collaboration with PLoS Medicine to develop the Collection announced previously elaborating on the themes driving the Report. The PLoS Medicine / WHO Collection will help capture the richness and diversity of country experiences in how to strengthen health research systems. A collection in an open access platform will allow all researchers, rich and poor alike, to contribute equally to the global pool of knowledge. The sharing of such experiences will complement and reinforce the practical advice contained in the World Health Report.

In relation to the expanded themes of the Report outlined above, submissions relating to research describing experiences with decision- and policy-makers within ministries of health and inter-sectoral policy development would be especially welcome. In addition papers on the implications of new technologies as it affects health care delivery and other, inter-sectoral aspects with potential impacts on health in developing countries (e.g. climate change, agriculture, trade, food security, etc) would also be welcome.

The WHO-PLoS Collection will bring together content from across the PLoS journals. Prospective authors wishing to submit articles for the WHO-PLoS Collection should submit initially to PLoS Medicine, and submissions will then be directed as appropriate to the most relevant PLoS journal, where they will be evaluated as per the journal’s usual policies, scope and standards.

To find out more about the WHO/PLoS Collection and how it will inform the World Health Report 2012, go to the collection site. Prospective authors should submit directly to PLoS Medicine via the online submission site or contact the editors on whr2012@plos.org.  We recommend that authors wishing to submit work to PLoS journals for potential consideration in the WHO/PLoS collection should submit their articles within the next two months (ie by the end of January 2012) to stand a good chance of their findings informing the eventual Collection and Report.

Competing Interests: Tikki Pang is with the World Health Organization’s Innovation, Information, Evidence and Research cluster and is the focal point for the development of the World Health Report 2012.

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