As Forum 2009 closed on Friday, we were left with some thoughts on the future direction of global health research. The conference in general was heavily weighted towards the need to drive health systems research and research on the social determinants of health.
Mention these issues to many lab scientists, however, and they would argue that these fields of study are far too “soft” a science for them to engage with.
This is what really damages research into the social factors affecting health. Traditional robust methods of interrogating an issue and gathering data such as randomised controlled trials have no traction when you are thinking about how a health system functions or when you are trying to evaluate a complex health intervention.
These don’t fit into neat scientific boxes in the way that parasite counts or viral loads do.
But transforming these fields will require rigorous evidence – how else will we know what changes to make to improve health systems across the developing world?
It’s good news then that the EU announced yesterday at the meeting that its next call for grants in January 2010 would focus heavily on research into the social determinants of health.
Some would argue that poor living conditions and gender inequity affect health even more than the biological causes of disease. There is only one way to find out, of course: more research, and more robust evaluation of that research.