Setting research priorities at the national level
Progress made but more to be done
A new study on the prevalence and quality of national health research priority setting practices among low- and middle-income countries has found progress and also noted areas for continued improvement. The systematic review, published in Rev Panam Salud Publica, covered 18 Latin American countries and recommended improving the quality of the methodologies used and coordinating regional efforts.
Priority-setting methods were compared to the “nine common themes for good practice in health research priorities.” The national priorities were compared to those of the World Health Organization’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and found to be, for the most part, in alignment with them.
Of the 18 Latin American countries assessed, 13 had documents that established national health research priorities, and the Caribbean Health Research Council had a research agenda for its 19 constituents. These 14 total reports varied widely in terms of objectives, content, dissemination, and implementation; most provided a list of strategic areas, suggestions, and/or sub-priorities for each country; however, few proposed specific research topics and questions.
Although most countries described criteria used to set priorities, no report indicated how the criteria themselves were developed and agreed upon. No document mentioned plans to update research priorities, and few evaluated the process. The extent to which an explanation on how priorities were established varied widely across countries.
The main areas that were cited for improvement are:
- Descriptions of the use of a comprehensive approach
- Information gathering
- Practices after priorities have been set
The authors recommend a standardized language after finding it difficult to draw comparisons across borders due to differences in classification and reporting. The study also reinforced the importance of developing international and/or regional mechanisms to fund research, as suggested by the Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development.
The authors of the study were from WHO/TDR; the Pan American Health Organization; the Council on Health Research for Development in Latin America; and the National Autonomous University of Honduras. They conducted the review to assess progress and characteristics of the priorities identified since an earlier 2009 study of a smaller group of Latin American countries. The aim was to encourage research, funding, discussion and cooperation among the countries and their research systems.
Rob Terry was in the World Health Organization’s department of public health, innovation and intellectual property when he began the study and in August accepted a position in TDR as manager of knowledge management. He oversees work that includes supporting priority setting practices and gap analysis, one of the 6 core functions of TDR’s strategy.
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