Mapping national health research systems across the Arab world

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Andrea Rinaldi
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


The Boosting research for health in the new Arab world meeting officially takes off today, in Bellagio, north Italy. Delegates from several Arab countries and representatives of the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) and of other institutions are swarming in, while sessions will begin early tomorrow.

Among the background papers distributed to participants in advance of the conference, several deal with the crucial aspect of the evaluation of the national health research systems (NHRS) of Arab countries. This is not trivial matter, as no comparable international indicator of the quantity/quality of health research exists.

An easily feasible – although admittedly limited – approach is to count medical research publications by researchers based in institutions in each country, as proposed by Martin McKee (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) and colleagues in a recent PLoS Medicine study. According to this indicator, the performance of Arab countries is (not surprisingly) a mixed bag, with countries such as Yemen and Somalia laying close to the bottom of the rank, and others, like Tunisia, doing fairly well, especially considering the available resources.

Other NHRS-mapping studies analysed the situation in the Arab word by using a more holistic approach, in particular trying to focus on the most important (but maybe most elusive to measure) outcome of health research: improved health of people, fair access to health care services, and reduced health inequities.

Using such a conceived method, COHRED-associated researchers have assessed the NHRS in most Arab countries, and recently published a study that completes the baseline information on health research systems in the region. In this last work five countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine and Syria) agreed to map their NHRS and collect information on research policies and regulations, governance and management mechanisms (including ethics review boards), and institutions that commission, produce and use research.

More soon.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Boosting Research for Health in the New Arab World meeting which takes place 26 February – 1 March 2013, in Bellagio, Italy. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.

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