COHRED Statement 1: Responsible vertical programming of global health research

Organisation: COHRED


A vertical research programme is responsible if it succeeds in building the capacity of a country’s researchers and the national research system – in the process of achieving its own research goals.

Research plays a crucial role in developing solutions to the health problems suffered by the populations of low and middle income countries. Most health research for and in low and middle income countries is funded from external sources. And most of this externally funded research takes the form of ‘vertical’ – condition – specific – programmes.

As a result…
• The health research agenda in poor countries is mostly determined from the outside, not based on national health research priorities, and concerns only those conditions for which international funding is available – largely HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.

• Externally funded research is not primarily concerned with leaving behind sustainable national research and research governance capacity– most capacity that is built focuses only on those competencies needed for individual research projects.

• An important opportunity for sustainable socio-economic development is missed, if health research does not become a driver for development in low income countries, where external investments in health research constitute a large part of total investments in science and technology.

• Research programmes rarely make provision to translate research findings into action – leaving this to under-funded, fragile health systems.

• Vertical research programmes can be highly effective at increasing research production and developing new interventions for neglected conditions that have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people. However, the ways these programmes are managed can make the difference between research as a technical effort with dubious implementation potential and research as a catalyst for development that achieves its potential to improve people’s lives.

What can be done?

• Countries have to take responsibility to put in place and resource a basic national health research system. At the least, they should provide mechanisms for research governance that can guide, negotiate, contract, prioritise, manage, follow-up on research and translate it into action.

• External research programmes and sponsors working for the health of people in low and middle income countries should realise that their research cannot be done in isolation from the context of poverty and under-development. Their response to this should be to invest in good partnership building that leaves behind substantial individual and institutional capacity when the programme is completed. This also means helping strengthen national research systems and governance.

About this report

This report has been prepared based on the experiences and observations of COHRED in supporting low and middle income countries to strengthen their health research systems. The ideas presented are supported by a literature review, desk research and examples of country experiences that illustrate the concept of responsible vertical programming. COHRED encourages feedback, debate and the sharing of experiences on the concepts presented. Please respond to

About COHRED Statements

The COHRED Statement highlights important issues in health research for development.

Health research is a key instrument to reduce poverty and improve health across the globe. The way in which research is done and the questions it addresses make an essential difference between health research that is a tool to deliver technical solutions to those who can afford them; or health research as central element of alleviating human suffering, improving health and health equity, and making development activities sustainable.

COHRED Statements are issued whenever there is a need to examine and emphasize issues in ‘research for health’ that make research work … for everyone.

Statements are prepared by COHRED and in partnership with other organisations if this helps advance solutions to the issues raised.


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