COHRED submits strong plea to the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) meeting to be held from 1-5 July 2013. This particular meeting includes a session on the Annual Ministerial Review (AMR). The theme for the AMR segment will focus on “Science, technology and innovation, and the potential of culture, for promoting sustainable development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals”.
Investing in Research and Innovation in low and middle income countries: moving from aid to taking the lead in creating health, equity and development.
Over the past decade, low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) have experienced tremendous economic growth, higher quality governance, and improvements in most indicators related to health, equity and socio-economic development. As a result, countries relying on aid to supplement national budgets see it being reduced as a direct consequence of their development.
In LMICs, research and science are mostly funded from external sources, and focus almost exclusively on agriculture and health. Supporting national research and innovation systems has generally not been seen as core to development collaboration. Now that LMIC economies are improving and aid is diminishing, especially in those countries transitioning to middle income status, their national science and innovation systems, that are the very engines of development in higher income countries, are not ready.
The failure to reach some MDGs are a case in point. Achieving the three “health MDGs” was intended to be supported through a global health research fund as proposed by the Commission on Macro-economics and Health, but this never happened. The more recent report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health made three recommendations, one of which was to greatly increase research for new interventions, and for measuring progress and impact. Even more recently, the World Health Organisation’s Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination proposed a Global Health Research Observatory. Without securing sustainable funding, however, these more recent proposals are also unlikely to succeed.
The current incentive systems for drug research and development fail to address the needs of LMICs, leaving millions without affordable access to the products required to treat, cure or prevent disease. Global health research financing remains poorly coordinated with national research and development agendas such that – for example – after decades of providing vaccines to children in Africa, Africa itself still has only one WHO pre-qualified vaccine producer. This is hardly sustainable development: it remains ‘relief’.
The drivers of national research and innovation systems are primarily the countries themselves, and, secondly, international bodies and bi-lateral cooperation agencies. Advancements in global drug, vaccine and health technology availability has greatly increased since some LMICs began producing their own medicines, vaccines and technologies, and marketing them more widely – even delivering higher quality and better solutions back to high income countries who were their aid-providers not long ago.
It is clear to us that strong research and innovation systems for health are key to improve equity, create jobs, generate a culture of evidence-informed decision-making, and encourage greater foreign direct investment, and promote independence from aid.
We call on ECOSOC and its member states to support our call for countries at all levels of economic development to increase their own investments in science, technology and innovation to improve health, increase equity and support country-led socio-economic development.
Targeting a percentage is a clumsy goal. Aiming instead to emulate what other countries that have successfully climbed the development ladder in recent decades have done, is a far better choice.