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Implementing a national health research for development platform in a low-income country – a review of Malawi’s Health Research Capacity Strengthening Initiative

Cole, Donald C., Nyirenda, Lot Jata, Fazal, Nadia and Bates, Imelda ORCID: (2016) 'Implementing a national health research for development platform in a low-income country – a review of Malawi’s Health Research Capacity Strengthening Initiative'. Health Research Policy and Systems, Vol 14, Issue 24.

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National health research for development (R4D) platforms in lower income countries (LICs) are few. The Health Research Capacity Strengthening Initiative (HRCSI, 2008–2013) was a national systems-strengthening programme in Malawi involved in national priority setting, decision-making on funding, and health research actor mobilization.

We adopted a retrospective mixed-methods evaluation approach, starting with information gleaned from reports (HRCSI and Malawian) and databases (HRCSI). A framework of a health research system (actors and components) guided report review and interview guide development. From a list of 173 individuals involved in HRCSI, 30 interviewees were selected within categories of stakeholders. Interviews were conducted face-to-face or via telephone/Skype over 1 month, documented with extensive notes. Analysis of emerging themes was iterative among co-evaluators, with synthesis according to the implementation stage.

Major HRCSI outputs included (1) National research priority-setting: through the production of themed background papers by Malawian health researchers and broad consultation, HRCSI led the development of a National Health Research Agenda (2012–2016), widely regarded as one of HRCSI’s foremost achievements. (2) Institutional research capacity: there was an overwhelming view that HRCSI had produced a step-change in the number of high calibre scientists in Malawi and in fostering research interest among young Malawians, providing support for around 56 MSc and PhD students, and over 400 undergraduate health-related projects. (3) Knowledge sharing: HRCSI supported research dissemination through national and institutional meetings by sponsoring attendance at conferences and through close relationships with individuals in the print media for disseminating information. (4) Sustainability: From 2011–2013, HRCSI significantly improved research systems, processes and leadership in Malawi, but further strengthening was needed for HRCSI to be effectively integrated into government structures and sustained long-term.

Overall, HRCSI carried out many components relevant to a national health research system coordinating platform, and became competent at managing over half of 12 areas of performance for research councils. Debate about its location and challenges to sustainability remain open questions.

More experimentation in the setting-up of national health R4D platforms to promote country ‘ownership’ is needed, accompanied by evaluation processes that facilitate learning and knowledge exchange of better practices among key actors in health R4D systems.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: WA Public Health > WA 20.5 Research (General)
WA Public Health > Health Problems of Special Population Groups > WA 395 Health in developing countries
WA Public Health > Health Administration and Organization > WA 540 National and state health administration
Faculty: Department: Clinical Sciences & International Health > International Public Health Department
Digital Object Identifer (DOI):
Depositing User: Jessica Jones
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2016 13:26
Last Modified: 22 Oct 2019 08:23


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