At the core of
knowledge lies good research.
At the core of a knowledge-based health organization lies a proactive approach to
That is why the World Health Organization puts renewed emphasis on bringing together
key partners and sets ambitious targets for the future.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the first meeting of the Steering
Committee of the International Conference on Health Research for Development. Planned for
the year 2000, the Conference is a joint initiative of the Council on Health Research for
Development, the Global Forum for Health Research, the World Bank, and WHO.
Many partners have expressed their interest in joining us to discuss and support this
initiative, and I thank them all. They include UN programmes, bilateral donors,
foundations, NGOs, and national research institutions from developed and developing
The positive response reflects the interest in being associated with the definition and
implementation of the global health research agenda. This shows growing awareness, in both
the public and private sectors, that health and development issues are closely linked
together - and need to be addressed together.
Health is both a condition and an outcome of development. This message has been at the
core of my advocacy efforts since I took office as Director-General of WHO. It was also
implicit in the report presented in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and
Development on Our Common Future.
Our responsibility is to help translate this message into our own approaches, policies
and field interventions. I welcome the proposal that the International Conference should
look at health research specifically in relation to development. It will help us focus the
For WHO to be a lead agency in health there needs to be a solid evidence base
underpinning our advice an evidence base for decision making that is scientifically
grounded and ethically sound. The cluster on Evidence and Information for Policy provides
evidence for the whole of WHO but also beyond to our partners and Member States.
WHO should engage in those areas in which it has the capacity to make a difference.
Research is the ultimate international public good. As such, its promotion is a core
function of the lead agency for international health cooperation.
In the past fifty years, a considerable body of knowledge and experience has been
accumulated on various areas of health research, development policies, and international
cooperation. We need to take stock and assess the impact of our efforts in these different
areas. We need to analyse the reasons that may account for failure or success. By
facilitating such comparative analysis, the International Conference on Health Research
for Development can make an essential contribution to the knowledge base and guidance we
need to develop for decision-makers.
I expect that the International Conference on Health Research for Development will help
us and our other partners to explore the types of research infrastructure, investment
decisions, development policies and cooperation mechanisms that are most likely to achieve
specific and measurable results.
The Conference will be timely. We have been reviewing the position of research within
WHO as part of the reform process. Having identified the expansion of the knowledge base
as a key challenge in global health, the WHO research policy framework needed updating to
take into account changing trends in science and international health. An External Working
Group has just completed its meeting, and a series of recommendations to support the
research policy of WHO will be submitted to the Executive Board next May.
To a large extent, the research priorities we set for ourselves today determine the
health agenda, health practices and technologies of tomorrow. In addressing current
challenges, we must base our policies and action on current scientific knowledge and the
lessons drawn from the past. But research must also help us anticipate future challenges
and propose workable solutions to address them. Sustainable development and sound health
policies also require foresight and long term planning.
Almost ten years ago, in 1990, the World Health Assembly emphasized the need to develop
health research and the necessary knowledge on which national health policies should be
That same year, following the Nobel Conference, the concept of Essential National
Health Research took root. On that basis, the Council on Health Research for Development
(COHRED) has developed collaboration with developing countries and gathered useful
In 1993 the World Bank focused its World Development Report on health, and
underscored the central importance of research for health gain.
In 1996, the WHO Ad Hoc Committee on Health Research Priorities published a
well-documented report on the need and criteria for investing in health research and
development. As a result of this work, the Global Forum for Health Research was
established. The Forum has just published its report on the disequilibrium between health
needs and allocation of research resources.
Finally, in two weeks, we will be presenting the World Health Report 1999, which
demonstrates that a large proportion of the health achievements of the 20th
century can be attributed to advances in scientific knowledge as they became translated
into effective technologies and also into health-promoting behaviours.
Each of you would have plenty to add from the research supported by your institutions
and your own publications. I wanted to point out that an impressive amount of material is
available and preparatory work, in a sense, has already begun for this International
As we see it, the Conference can be a useful meeting ground to carry out the following
- to review the contribution of health research to health gains in the last decade,
relating these gains to overall human development, equity in health and poverty
- to evaluate the impact of specific health research initiatives taken by major players
such as WHO, COHRED and the Global Forum for Health Research during the last decade
- to identify gaps, constraints and shortcomings, and draw lessons from such cumulative
- to assess the health research needs and corresponding resources required in the coming
- to review the comparative strengths of the different players, and the mechanisms through
which they can best develop effective partnerships and achieve synergy, and
- together forge a global research agenda that will serve as an important tool for
development in the first decade of the new century
The Conference itself will be a landmark. It will give new and worldwide visibility to
health and draw attention to its intrinsic links with development. It will also foster new
thinking on research and its major potential contribution not just to technical problems
but also to the decision-making process on health and overall development policies and
The biggest challenge will be to show how research, at the highest scientific level,
can be coupled with policies and concrete interventions for meeting health needs. And,
even more importantly, how the outputs of such research can be translated into action that
will help tackle effectively the problems of the poor.
WHO is committed to research capacity strengthening as an essential strategy to ensure
that all countries can be active participants in the construction of a better future for
health. I am aware that the issue of how to deal with capacity building is the subject of
much debate. It will be a major challenge for the Conference to demonstrate its ability to
propose cost-effective mechanisms for building research capacity in countries and also to
define reliable tools to measure the impact of that strategy.
As we leave a century of unprecedented human health progress, we must recognize that
one fifth of humanity still has no access to health services, and one half lacks regular
access to essential drugs. This must be present in our minds as we discuss the proposed
agenda in support of health research, capacity building, poverty elimination and
For much of the unfinished health agenda of this century we have the tools and
technology to make a difference. Health systems research can help assure that those
resources are applied in an effective and equitable manner. At the same time, we must
identify knowledge gaps, mobilize research to fill those gaps, and help develop the
products, approaches and supportive environment required.
With your support and involvement, the International Conference on Health Research for
Development can help advance the twin goals of better health and more equitable
development. WHO will make every effort within its reach to promote this initiative and
ensure that the Conference's findings and recommendations are used and translated into