Guest blog by Tikki Pang, Director, Research Policy & Cooperation, World Health Organization.
“I see no way out of our vicious cycle of poverty except through the means that science and technology has placed at our disposal”. These were the words of Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), India’s first and longest serving Prime Minister and a scientific visionary.
How many countries in the developing world have listened to Nehru? Has scientific research been applied to improve health outcomes and health equity? Despite persuasive evidence on the impressive returns for investing in research, many developing countries still do not see the value of such investments.
Pandemics of infectious disease, chronic diseases, antimicrobial resistance, food security and climate change will continue to contribute to health problems globally. In times of financial crisis and competing priorities, it is even more important that evidence and science informs health policy and decision making. Hassan Mshinda, former Director of the Ifakara Health Centre in Tanzania puts it succinctly: “If you are poor, actually you need more evidence before you invest, rather than if you are rich.”
But ministers of health often ask: “How do we strengthen research in our countries”? The World Health Organization’s forthcoming World Health Report for 2012 hopes to provide a practical ‘A to Z Guide for Investing in Health Research.’
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?
Political commitment together with practical new ideas and tools are needed to help countries develop a robust and sustainable research system. Progress in science also depends on universal access to knowledge and capturing contributions from all participants.
The World Health Organization is collaborating with PLoS Medicine to develop a Collection, titled “No Health Without Research”, 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.
Equity, access and inclusiveness will enrich science and will ultimately lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.
To find out more about the WHO/PLoS Collection and how it will inform World Health Report 2012, go to the collection site.
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.