BACKGROUND: Health challenges and health systems set-ups differ, warranting contextualised healthcare interventions to move towards universal health coverage. As such, there is emphasis on generation of contextualized evidence to solve local challenges. However, weak research capacity and inadequate resources remain an impendiment to quality research in the African region. WHO African Region (WHO AFR) facilitated the adoption of a regional strategy for strengthening national health research systems (NHRS) in 2015. We assessed the progress in strengthening NHRS among the 47 member states of the WHO AFR.
METHODS: We employed a cross sectional survey design using a semi structured questionnaire. All the 47member states of WHO AFR were surveyed. We assessed performance against indicators of the regional research strategy, explored facilitating factors and barriers to strengthening NHRS. Using the research barometer, which is a metric developed for the WHO AFR we assessed the strength of NHRS of member states. Data were analysed in Excel Software to calculate barometer scores for NHRS function and sub-function. Thematic content was employed in analysing the qualitative data. Data for 2014 were compared to 2018 to assess progress.
RESULTS: WHO AFR member states have made significant progress in strengthening their NHRS. Some of the indicators have either attained or exceeded the 2025 targets. The average regional barometer score improved from 43% in 2014 to 61% in 2018. Significant improvements were registered in the governance of research for health (R4H); developing and sustaining research resources and producing and using research. Financing R4H improved only modestly. Among the constraints are the lengthy ethical clearance processes, weak research coordination mechanisms, weak enforcement of research laws and regulation, inadequate research infrastructure, limited resource mobilisation skills and donor dependence.
CONCLUSION: There has been significant improvement in the NHRS of member states of the WHO AFRO since the last assessment in 2014. Improvement across the different objectives of the regional research strategy is however varied which compromises overall performance. The survey highlighted the areas with slow improvement that require a concerted effort. Furthermore, the study provides an opportunity for countries to share best practice in areas of excellence.
- national health research systems
- research for health governance
- financing for research
- research coordination