Scientist–policymaker misunderstandings ‘hindering research’

November 18, 2008

[BAMAKO] Tense relations between scientists and policy-makers are a barrier to ensuring science achieves its potential impact on health in Africa, delegates at the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health heard.

The two groups perceive each other to have different world views and different timeframes for action — and policymakers say scientists provide overly technical, inaccessible information.

Read the full story on SciDev.Net

Key African countries ‘not keeping health research promises’

November 18, 2008

[BAMAKO] Several key African countries have done “very little” to invest in health research since pledging to do so at a world meeting of health and science ministers in Mexico four years ago, say critics.

But others – including Tanzania, Rwanda and Mali – have made significant progress in investing in their health research.

Read the full story on SciDev.Net

Wanted: TB test for US$100mil

November 18, 2008

Create a quick, accurate test for tuberculosis (TB) that can be administered with minimal training and resources, and you might just win yourself US$100 million in prize money.

Of course, you would have to allow the test to be sold at cost – meaning no extra royalties from sales; and you’ll only get the money after it has been proven effective over a period of at least seven years.

This prize fund is one of the new ways of stimulating research and development in TB mentioned by speaker Tileman-Dothias von Schoen-Angerer of Doctors without Borders during the session on Tuberculosis Research.

If that amount of time seems too long even for US$100 million, fear not, there is also a suggestion that smaller sub-prizes of maybe US$10 million be given out for important developmental goalposts in the research for such a test with only a two-year proving period needed.

So, any bright ideas for a quick ID on Mycobacterium?

Shiow Chin Tan, SciDev.Net

Global health’s ′Cinderella′

November 18, 2008

Described as the ″Cinderella″ of global health by chair Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, the session on non-communicable diseases (NCD) certainly shared the topic’s luck.

Technical problems struck first when a video from Ala Alwan, WHO assistant director-general of non-communicable diseases and mental health, on ″After Bamako: Taking the agenda forward″ was unable to be played.

Noise from a couple of rooms off the back of the hall where the session was being held also plagued the talk, although the sharp questions that were asked during Q&A showed that the audience hadn’t allowed that to distract their attention from the speakers.

Horton also pointed out that ″if NCD is Cinderella, mental health is the ugly stepsister″; for while WHO has recently developed a programme for tackling NCDs, mental health is still not being given the attention it deserves. Especially when depression is among the top three causes of disability around the world.

One of the speakers, Sania Nisthar, president of non-governmental agency Heartfile, Pakistan, also brought up the interesting situation where researching NCDs in her country has indirectly led to the improvement of the health information system.

For example, morbidity surveys are based on assessment of risk factors rather than actual cause of death as overlapping diseases make it difficult to accurately define the cause of death.

Data on these risk factors are integrated into general demographic surveys due to resource constraints. Researchers using this data have discovered gaps in the data collection, which has resulted in them reviewing and refining the methods of national health data collection in order to facilitate their own research into NCDs, thus improving the health information system.

Shiow Chin Tan, SciDev.Net

And if you wish you were here…

November 17, 2008

TropIKA.Net, the web portal of the WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), is also reporting from Bamako 2008 with a homepage devoted to the meeting. They’ll be providing technical reports and background reading, interviewing key speakers, producing daily reports summarising each session and blogging throughout the conference.

Getting it out there

November 17, 2008

Given the choice, would the average scientist prefer to find a cure for tuberculosis or find a really effective way of getting it to people? It is the concentration on the former that Ok Pannenborg, a senior health advisor at the World Bank, highlighted this morning at Bamako 2008 in a plenary session on research for health challenges.

Health systems research, he said, is unsexy. Health systems are seen as “amorphous, abstract and vast”. How can anyone go about researching such things?

The key, he said, is not to see it as disease versus health systems research, or even disease research alongside health systems research – but focusing on better health systems for the treatment of disease.

Research, he said, is an indispensible tool for improving health systems, from identifying and understanding problems to developing and evaluating new ways of doing things.

But it’s not just in health systems that finding out how to best deliver things to people is key. Health is not just about healthcare, said Michael Marmot, chair of the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health, in a video presentation during a later session.

Research into the social determinants of health has shown what can lead to poor health. It’s acting on this evidence which is the next step, said Marmot. We know that clean water is good for people’s health, let’s find a way of getting it to people.

Katherine Nightingale, SciDev.Net

A hope for equity

November 17, 2008

Bamako 2008 opening ceremonyBringing together various ministers of health, science, research and higher education along with researchers, nongovernmental organisations, civil society representatives, funders, the private sector and others for a three-day conference in Mali’s capital city of Bamako was definitely a Herculean task to begin with.

Add to that an Air France pilot strike the exact weekend the conference began, and it’s a wonder that the organisers didn’t have a collective nervous breakdown.

But despite the potential logistical chaos for delegates travelling via Paris and an hour’s delay in the opening ceremony, there was no confusion whatsoever among the organising partners of Bamako 2008 on what they feel needs to be done in research for health.

While research into the prevention and treatment of diseases is a no-brainer, there was an equal emphasis on research into health delivery systems so that governments have the scientific evidence on which to make informed decisions on health policies.

The next challenge, as stated in WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan’s speech, is to get these political leaders to pay attention to these research results and incorporate them into all governmental policies and departments (not just health) to achieve health equity.

So will the ministers at least aim to listen more to researchers? We await the Bamako Call to Action on Wednesday.

Shiow Chin Tan, SciDev.Net

Turning words into actions?

November 17, 2008

This week (17–19 November) ministers of health, science and technology will get together with health researchers, nongovernmental organisations, funding councils and donors to debate the priorities for global health research at the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health (or Bamako 2008) in Mali.

The meeting is a follow up to the Ministerial Summit on Health Research, held in Mexico City in 2004, which focused on overcoming the ever-evident gaps between research and policy, and policy and action.

SciDev.Net’s coverage at the time concentrated on the dearth of funding for health systems research, the disparity in funding for health research between developed and developing countries, and the need to recognise the burden of non-communicable diseases.

Somewhat depressingly, these issues remain at the top of the agenda today and will likely receive a great deal of attention at Bamako 2008, highlighting just how slowly things have moved on in the last four years.

Will the Bamako meeting be any different? Will the delegates have the opportunity to interact enough with the ministers? Will anything new come out of the ministerial discussions? And most importantly, will the final Bamako Call to Action be acted upon globally and in individual nations?

We’ll be there — the Air France pilots’ strike permitting — to give you the low-down on the sessions, the general mood at the conference, and whether it looks as though the words might just turn into action …

Katherine Nightingale and Shiow Chin Tan, SciDev.Net

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