EDCTP National Health Research Systems 2020 survey report

26 July 2022

Recent public health emergencies in Africa have shown that countries with poor health research systems and weak research infrastructure need to be strengthened to meet the challenges of outbreak preparedness. In 2018, EDCTP and WHO Regional Office for Africa (WHO-AFRO) partnered to explore the use of a ‘barometer’ as a tool to create a roadmap for the development of national health research systems in the region. EDCTP’s latest survey based on this barometer shows a slight overall improvement in the performance of the National Health Research Systems (NHRS) of its African participating states.

Sub-Saharan African countries have traditionally had weak health and research systems. To address this issue, the region adopted a new ‘research for health’ strategy in 2016. To benchmark national health research systems, WHO-AFRO developed a ‘barometer’ as a tool to assess NHRS capabilities across four domains: governance, developing and sustaining resources, producing and using research, and financing.

In July 2018, EDCTP and WHO-AFRO launched a collaborative initiative for the development and strengthening of NHRS in EDCTP’s African participating states. An improved barometer tool was developed and was used to conduct NHRS surveys in 17 EDCTP African participating states. The results of this 2018 survey were discussed at a follow-up consultative meeting organised by EDCTP and WHO-AFRO, and EDCTP’s participating states used the results to develop a roadmap for further NHRS strengthening in advance of a further national survey in 2020.

In 2020, the survey study was repeated to monitor progress. The study provides an opportunity for countries to understand how to continually improve areas without consistent gains.

The results of the 2020 survey show that, among others:

  • Overall, the performance of EDCTP’s participating African states’ NHRS in all domains improved slightly compared to 2018
  • Strikingly, all countries reported presence of an ethical review committee and universities with faculties of health sciences or medicine
  • However, results for the domain ‘producing and using research’ declined by 3% and 2%, respectively and financing of research for health remains the least performing domain.

The impact COVID-19 cannot be over-emphasised and might have contributed to individual countries reporting declines in barometer scores. It is very important to note though that national governments as stewards of the country’s research agenda should set the strategic vision in policies and strategic plans, develop and enforce laws and regulations for research and protect research participants through ethical processes during this pandemic while not lose the target for 2025 indicated in the 2018 WHO/EDCTP NHRS report. In general, countries with the political will and strong national research institutions mandated by parliament and allocated annual budgets for health research tend to have higher NHRS barometer scores. For those countries that have progressed, there is need to share best practice(s) in their areas of excellence in NHRS in preparation for the next survey in 2022.

“This joint EDCTP and WHO-AFRO initiative for the development and use of the barometer to assess the National Health Research Systems (NHRS), although still quite new, is showing its positive impact at country level, by increasing national awareness on the need to develop health research and assessing progress (or lack of it), in line with the regional strategy adopted in 2015. The assessment provides evidence to support informed decisions. Therefore, I encourage both EDCTP and WHO-AFRO to continue supporting all African countries to make the routine use of the barometer as a reliable tool to guide the continuous development of their National Health Research Systems.”

Dr Leonardo Simão, EDCTP High Representative for Africa

“We cannot continue to import solutions. We need African solutions for African people. Strong National Health Research Systems are vital to finding those solutions. At the same time, they reflect who we are and how we want to fix the future. We need to strengthen our NHRS to achieve better health care for our population.”

Prof. dr Francine Ntoumi, EDCTP General Assembly member and Vice President of the Central Africa, African Academy of Sciences Governing Council

“As the WHO lead for the NHRS survey, coordinating responses in the WHO-AFRO members states, during the COVID-19 pandemic was very challenging. I am therefore delighted to see an improvement in the NHRS Barometer score for most EDCTP participating states. It was a pleasure working with EDCTP to make this happen.”

Dr Joseph Okeibunor, Team Lead Research Development and Innovations, WHO Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO)