Beyond aid: optimising the role of international partnerships in building research capacity in low-and middle-income countries…

Categories:Director's Corner

May 14 2012

A special edition of the Director’s Corner

*By Gwynn Stevens, Carel IJsselmuiden, and Kubata Bruno Kilunga

GENEVA/JOHANNESBURG/NAIROBI — After months of planning, it was exciting to meet with health and development experts from around the world to imagine a new paradigm for health research partnerships in African and other low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The consensus we reached at a special session of the 14th global meeting of the COHRED Group’s Global Forum for Health Research held on 26 April of Forum 2012, was that the time is right for African countries to drive their national health research agendas, and to make efforts to finance it more fully.

“Low- and middle-income countries, particularly African countries, must increase their ownership of health-related research and development processes, and reduce dependency on donor funding,” Yogan Pillay, deputy director-general of strategic health programmes for the South Africa Department of Health, told us. Partnerships will be key to accomplishing this goal.

We represent three different organisations. The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is a product development partnership (PDP), a non-for-profit group that connects government resources, private sector technologies, and research and academic institutions to accomplish our goal—a safe and effective HIV vaccine available to all who need it (USAID supported IAVI-invited participants at the session).

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development Agency (NEPAD Agency), the technical arm of the African Union, provides a common platform for the eradication of poverty in Africa through sustainable growth and development and African ownership.

The COHRED (the Council on Health Research for Development) Group supports research for health, equity, and development in LMICs by engaging all the relevant entities, including research institutions and councils, ministries, civil society and the media.

We convened the session to explore the current roles and future potential of international partnerships, broadly conceived, in advancing development through health research. Attendees sought to identify the elements of partnerships that would bring the greatest benefits to research and capacity-development in Africa and, at the same time strengthen health and development systems on the continent.

A core issue is the vertical, disease-specific research model that currently characterises much health research in developing countries. Carel IJsselmuiden, Executive Director of the COHRED Group, said that funders and research programs must consciously build systems and capacity in their areas that can extend beyond silos and support other campaigns. Partnerships, he said, “are a key element of responsible vertical programming.”

Bruno Kilunga Kubata, Coordinator of Health Sector at the NEPAD Agency, noted that: “Despite substantial external funding for health in Africa, science, technology and innovation and research for health systems remain weak in most African countries.” He added that the events of the 21st century call for a new type of partnership model. “With the current global financial turmoil and rapid growth in several African countries, it is imperative that we re-think health and research for health financing in Africa, and international partnerships that strengthen African research capacity and ownership are key.”

We developed a number of specific and general recommendations. Most crucially, perhaps, research for health programs must design capacity building for development and health systems into their programs from the earliest stages, i.e., this must be a goal and not merely an incidental, even unexpected collateral benefit. Partnering organisations should be selected with attention to their commitment to ensuring that the infrastructure and human expertise which will be developed for the program is sustainable and transferable. Country ownership will benefit from locally anchored partners, such as national universities, who will still be there when a particular research program is concluded.

Finally, it was clear that the benefits of international partnership are valuable for all regions, not only low-income African countries. A report of the session will be released shortly.


*This special edition of the Director’s Corner is authored in collaboration with the following partner colleagues:

• Dr. Gwynn Stevens is Director of Clinical Laboratories, IAVI, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

• Prof. Dr. Kubata Bruno Kilunga is coordinator of NEPAD Agency – Research for Health Initiative in Africa & Pharmaceutical Innovation, in Nairobi, Kenya.

• Carel IJsselmuiden, Executive Director of the COHRED Group, in Geneva, Switzerland.

For a quick snapshot of what happened at Forum 2012, check out our blogs from the proceedings

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