Health research systems: promoting health equity or economic competitiveness?

International collaborative health research is justifiably expected to help reduce global health inequities. Investment in health policy and systems research in developing countries is essential to this process but, currently, funding for international research is mainly channelled towards the development of new medical interventions. This imbalance is largely due to research legislation and policies used in high-income countries. These policies have increasingly led these countries to invest in health research aimed at boosting national economic competitiveness rather than reducing health inequities. In the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the regulation of research has encouraged a model that: leads to products that can be commercialized; targets health needs that can be met by profitable, high-technology products; has the licensing of new products as its endpoint; and does not entail significant research capacity strengthening in other countries. Accordingly, investment in international research is directed towards pharmaceutical trials and product development public–private partnerships for neglected diseases. This diverts funding away from research that is needed to implement existing interventions and to strengthen health systems, i.e. health policy and systems research. Governments must restructure their research laws and policies to increase this essential research in developing countries.

Authors: Bridget Pratt & Bebe Loff in the WHO bulletin

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