Research policy

Ministerial Summit on Health Research

The Challenge

Knowledge generated by health research has created enormous opportunities to improve population health through life-saving public goods such as drugs, vaccines and diagnostics. These public goods are critical components of the investment being made to achieve the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

However, while half the world's deaths are potentially preventable with simple and cost-effective interventions using these public goods, the 2005 mid-decade assessment is expected to reveal that the MDGs are unlikely to be reached in several regions by 2015 due to shortfalls in the capacity of health systems.

Disparities and inequities in health remain major development challenges in the new millennium, and malfunctioning health systems are at the heart of the problem. Countries who have the highest burden of disease are struggling with poor service delivery and infrastructure, inadequate financing, severe shortages of doctors, nurses and other trained health care workers, as well as a lack of basic information on health indicators. Decision-makers and policy advocates critically need knowledge generated by health systems research to ensure that their health strategies sufficiently address and overcome the systems barriers and constraints. While biomedical research is estimated at US$ 60 billion per year, health policy and systems research funds that are external to institutional budgets represent only some US$ 140 million. Equally important, the research system itself, i.e. the generation, translation and sharing of knowledge, must be examined as to how it can better serve the health needs of the population to achieve the MDGs.


The Millennium Development Goals represent a framework for measuring development progress and poverty eradication worldwide. The MDGs have been recognized by both developed and developing countries in 2000 and represent an opportunity for concerted action, especially in the field of health where a momentum is building up to meet these challenges. Out of the eight MDGs, three are directly related to health - reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. But, improvement of health is also an important component of other MDGs and can definitely play a role, for instance, in the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, in ensuring environmental sustainability, or in developing a global partnership for development.