Implementation research to reach the Millennium Development Goals

World Health Summit symposium on how to help more women and children

TDR news item
24 October 2011

Implementation research could speed up progress to improve the health of women and children in low and middle income countries, the focus of the Millennium Development Goals 4, 5 and 6. How to increase this type of research was the topic of two events at the World Health Summit in Berlin, which were co-organized by the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) and UNICEF.

Millions of dollars are spent on health innovations, but too often they never get to the people in low and middle income countries who really need them, even when they were designed for those groups. Implementation research (IR) is about figuring out how best to put in place what is already known to work – such as a drug that has been shown to kill a malaria parasite, a diagnostic tool that identifies who has tuberculosis, or a strategy on how to treat a child with fever. It's a field of study that is growing quickly because of the vast needs.

At the Sunday, 23 October Partnership Symposium at the World Health Summit, Dr Mickey Chopra, Chief of Health and Associate Director of Programmes at UNICEF, talked about their equity-based strategy to improve access to health care services for women and children, and their plan to embed implementation research into their programming as one aspect of this new strategy. UNICEF is working with several groups based at the World Health Organization (WHO), which are collaborating within the recently established Implementation Research Platform. They include TDR, the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, the Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP), the WHO department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development (CAH) and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (NMC) Together, they are supporting needed research in key countries at the highest risk of neglected infectious diseases of poverty and maternal and child illness.

Research capacity to undertake implementation and health systems research in low and middle income countries is increasing but not fast enough to address these questions. Meeting participants recommended that networks among these countries and with high income countries continue expanding to address this shortage and contribute to sustainable capacity.

A two day meeting organized by TDR and UNICEF held just before the Sunday symposium brought together more than 30 experts in health policy and research, including public health officials, UNICEF, WHO, and research directors from developing countries.

Recommendations include:

  • Put stronger emphasis on research into cost-effectiveness and how to increase access to health care
  • Identify what works best and what doesn't work in real time
  • Systematically embed implementation research and operational research in health programming
  • Develop better understanding of patient or client perspectives, both in rich and poor settings, on issues of access, cost and quality of health care.

The meeting was funded by the German government and from part of the funding allocated to TDR as the winner of the 2011 Gates Award for Global Health.

This is the third World Health Summit under the high patronage of Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy, organized by the M8 Alliance (eight academic health centres and medical universities) which aims to help shape political, academic and social agendas. This year's conference focuses on how to strengthen health systems, use research evidence more frequently for policy, and increase innovation. Sessions are devoted to examining how to increase the movement from idea to implementation through the different groups – academic medicine, industry and those responsible for health care delivery. The Summit continues through 26 October.

For more information, contact Dr Garry Aslanyan.