My name is Samba Cor Sarr; I am a Research Manager with the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Senegal. My first engagement with the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) dates back to 2002. I had just finished my graduate studies in Canada and was now back in Senegal at the Ministry. This was at a time when we were trying to develop our national health research strategy and to develop our profile in the area of health research.
As a result of discussions between MOH and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva – it was recommended that I contact International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) and partners in the field of health research. COHRED came highly recommended and it was one of the first organisations that I reached out to.
I Remember that during this period, COHRED’s focus was still primarily on supporting and promoting Essential National Health Research (ENHR) as a comprehensive strategy for organising and managing national health research. In Senegal, we were still grappling with this issue of developing a strategy and implementing it. And so, we had quite a few questions for COHRED: ‘How can we improve NHR in our country’? ‘What should we focus on in our strategy’? And ‘What do we need to have in place’?
We sat down with the colleagues from COHRED and also got some financial support from WHO in order to come up with a strategy. We are still using the strategy today and we have also managed to implement it by getting the local authorities, institutions and practitioners to buy into it and keep it relevant.
Since then, the nature of our engagements with COHRED have taken on a capacity building and advocacy perspective – as we started participating in a series of learning and knowledge exchange workshops. For instance, in 2007 we participated in a workshop organised by COHRED in Geneva on HRWeb (www.healthresearchweb.org). I remember thinking to myself that this platform which acts as a one-stop shop for access to health research information, could turn out to be a ‘revolutionary tool’. What also struck me as interesting was the fact that the COHRED Board was in attendance and they were actively getting involved in explaining to us how HRWeb worked.
On my return to Senegal, the first thing that I did was to get authorisation from the MOH for us to use HRWeb. We then started working with COHREDon how to develop and contextualise HRWeb to our needs in Senegal. In fact, we went as far as to develop a Managament Information System (MIS) that could be tapped into by our leading health organisations and health research institutes. This development has been helpful in the sense that we now had an MIS system that we could go to for updates and information on the health research status of the country. Senegal has now gone on to create HRWeb as a national- level platform. In fact, each year we integrate in our work the strengthening of HRWeb in our national health system priorities.
In addition toworking with COHRED, the West African Health Organisation and the International Development Research Centre, Senegal is now also in a position to share its own experiences with other countries as part of the process of supporting the development of similar platforms in neighboring countries with low health research systems. The countries include: Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Sierra Leone. The first workshop was held in Dakar, Senegal in 2011.
In 2012, during Forum 2012, I noticed that COHRED had developed a new tool – RHInnO. This online tool, a research for health innovation organiser, enables users to streamline the research management process. I saw this as an opportunity to further improve our national health research system. During the unveiling of RHInnO, I asked COHRED for requirements on what can be done to have this system. We are now testing this new tool. Again, the MOH of Senegal is going to support the use of this system at the technical level and hopefully we can achieve another success with this. The presence of this new tool has made me think about how we can integrate this system into the NEPAD and COHRED initiative on Research for Health Africa (R4HA).
As such, COHRED’s value addition to our work has mainly come through what can be referred to as technical, financial and strategic support. However, I think the most significant and specific contributions have included these two issues concerning the set-up and provision of tools to elaborate on the national priorities for health research and the development of specific online platforms for health research.
Along the way, there have also been some challenges and lessons learned. These have included:
- the need to elaborate the criteria for the translation of research for health and innovation results into real practical application and the eventual evaluation of this process;
- the presence of the still existing gap between the researcher policymakers;
- how to continue integrating research for health and even innovation into the broader processes of development?
- how to develop lobby groups that can be used to convince leaders and ministers (for instance, the minister of finance) to create a public fund that is exclusively for health research?
- the creation of a health research council in each country in order to advocate, secure funding, create networks and promote research for health and innovation as a gateway to national development;
- funding gaps have meant that the tools and strategies that have been developed and integrated into national level systems are not always implemented and finally and
- lastly, the various declarations are not being met. For instance, the 5% target of partner support to health being committed to research for health is not being met by our leaders and/or respected by some of our partners. Again, how can we get action on this?
Looking ahead at the next twenty years of COHRED, I think these are issues that COHRED could decide to work on – more specifically. Political will and motivation is still lacking at the national level, but working with WAHO and NEPAD, and other regional entities, COHRED could work to develop the partnerships between countries, between regions and even at the global level as part of the process of securing support that can be used to instigate political will and motivation.