Programmes aimed at health research capacity strengthening (HRCS) aim to enable local researchers and institutions to develop the scientific skills needed to address local health problems and needs effectively. The role of research and innovation as a critical component within a wider functioning health system is increasingly recognised and included in the UN's sustainable development goals.
This recognition makes evident the need to address longer-term and structural challenges faced by developing countries that have a high burden of poverty-related diseases. Over the last 20 years, partnerships between public and private organisations have become a powerful mechanism for addressing these issues, and are beginning to have an impact on HRCS efforts in countries where products are being developed.
A recent mapping of global HRCS notes the increasing presence and relevance of a variety of private and third-sector actors. While they may add to an already plural funding landscape, multi-stakeholder partnerships clearly have the potential to develop cost effective solutions to the high burden of disease in developing countries by contributing to local capacity and capabilities.
In particular, Product Development Partnerships (PDPs), which tend to be public-private partnerships aimed at accelerating the development of new health innovations, have adopted a number of different ways to build required capabilities in endemic countries. In some cases, this has been a natural consequence of undertaking research and development in developing countries, whereas in others it has been a direct goal. Partnering with local institutions, improving infrastructure, providing training, and supporting advocacy efforts have all been common HRCS activities conducted by PDPs. Partnering, however, does not automatically lead to increased capacities and capabilities, and it is important to evaluate the contributions being made by PDPs.
One example of a PDP involved in HRCS activities is the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), which was created in 1996 to ensure the development of a safe, effective, accessible, preventive AIDS vaccine for use throughout the world. RAND Europe's recent evaluation of IAVI's capacity-building activities highlighted a number of achievements and considerations at the individual, institutional, and system level.
Individual: IAVI Has Trained Local Researchers, Equipping Them with the Skills and Expertise Necessary to Conduct Clinical Research
IAVI has made a significant contribution to training interventions to support scientific excellence and Good Clinical Practice for AIDS vaccine clinical trials and epidemiology studies, in particular through the provision of training and short courses for over 800 participants. In addition, IAVI has begun to provide direct support to build further research capacity, through technology transfer of assays and techniques as well as advanced degree support (M.Sc., Ph.D.) and mentorship that will enable East African scientists to lead AIDS vaccine research and development programs.
Institutional: IAVI Has Partnered with Local Research Organisations in Order to Facilitate Knowledge-Sharing, Build Infrastructure, and Create Networks
IAVI has established a network of partners with the necessary clinical, laboratory, and IT infrastructure to conduct high-quality clinical and epidemiological research and assess the safety and immunogenicity of vaccines. This networked approach has become a common feature of HRCS, given their potential for harnessing varied institutional strengths: for example, the Wellcome Trust's African Institutions Initiative.
System: IAVI Has Helped Improve the Visibility of Research and Helped to Ensure Sustained Investment Through Advocacy
IAVI has successfully developed community engagement platforms to ensure that its research reflects community interests. They also bridge the gap between researchers and policymakers, helping to ensure that HIV vaccine research is an important component of national policy agendas and aligns with national research priorities.
As with other donors working on HRCS activities, IAVI and other PDPs face the challenge of demonstrating success at these institutional and system levels. With an increasingly plural funding landscape, there is a clear need to understand where the opportunities for cooperation, coordination, and collaboration can be found amongst funders. Coordinating efforts between funders in the region may offer the opportunity to pool resources and share experiences.
Gavin Cochrane is an analyst at RAND Europe.
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