The public consultation survey yielded 421 responses. The largest proportion of respondents came from academia (43%), which was nearly double the next largest sector, non-governmental organisations (23%). Other respondents came from international organisations (13%), national government (9%) and industry (3%). The majority of respondents came from high-income countries (60%), with 40% from low- or middle-income countries. The relevant experience of respondents ranged from less than 1 year to 50 years, with a modal category of 10 to 15 years of experience.
What do you think will be the top three priority areas for global health research for the next 20–50 years?
The strongest theme to emerge from the survey responses is the growing importance of non-communicable diseases (NCD). This theme had substantially higher frequency of comment than any other area. The overwhelming focus of responses related to NCD risk factors were on obesity (60 comments), with other risk factors (e.g. diet, hypertension, tobacco and alcohol) receiving lower proportions of responses (no category with a higher frequency than 10 comments). The most frequently mentioned NCDs were cancer (32 comments), diabetes (27 comments), and dementia/neurological conditions (24 comments).
“Research to inform strategies and policies to prevent and treat non-communicable diseases”
“Infectious diseases will continue to be a top priority in global health research, especially the ‘big three’: HIV, TB, and malaria. These diseases remain top killers across the world, and new tools are still urgently needed to curb these epidemics.” Quotes from participants on long-term future priority areas
While respondents on the whole cited NCDs as the most important research priority, many acknowledge the continuing importance of infectious diseases. The frequency at which NCDs were mentioned compared to infectious diseases possibly reflects the increasing prevalence of NCDs and their associated burden of disease in poor populations, as well as the progress made in infectious disease research during the past decade. Many of the participants referenced infectious diseases as a general category. However, the majority of comments focused on individual diseases, with three subthemes sharing approximately equal frequency; HIV, malaria and emerging diseases.
Other strong themes identified by participants for future research prioritisation include nutrition/malnutrition (114 comments), health systems (95 comments), and maternal, neonatal and child health (79 comments).
What areas do you think will be less important than today?
There were six times more comments for infectious diseases than any other theme. Within the infectious disease theme, most comments were about specific infectious diseases, with 69 comments for HIV and 32 comments for malaria. There were 39 comments for HIV in the first question (about future priority areas), which possibly reflects recognition of the progress made in HIV and substantial research funding in this area relative to other global health issues. Other themes highlighted were reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, NCDs, nutrition and vertical programmes, although all received relatively few comments in comparison to infectious diseases.
“Some of the communicable diseases that have been the greatest priorities over the last 15 years including HIV and malaria may well become less significant in terms of premature death as NCDs … become major causes of death and disability.” Quote from participant on areas for reducing future importance
What are the best ways to improve research uptake in low-income countries to get more research into policy and practice?
The involvement of policymakers and other key stakeholders in research processes was highlighted as important to improve research uptake (44 comments). Responses encouraged the early engagement of these groups in the selection of research topics and research approaches. Responses also highlighted the need for continued involvement throughout the research process and into the integration of findings into policy and practice.
The role of collaboration and partnership for evidence uptake was a very strong theme (82 comments), including the importance of collaboration with in-country bodies to integrate evidence into their policy and practice. Research funding as a mechanism to drive evidence uptake was highlighted by participants as a strong driver (63 comments), including research funding criteria on integration of evidence into policy and practice.
“Embed research into existing [government] health programmes so that research addresses national priorities, government has ownership, and research is real-life, leading to real-life answers that are appropriate for the context.” Quote from participant on how to improve research uptake
Participants also identified key themes for evidence uptake such as education and training aimed at policymakers and researchers, and targeted dissemination of research findings to decision-makers.
What is the best way to build research capacity in low-income countries?
Informants emphasised the importance of programmes to build researcher capacity (132 comments), including degree or master’s programmes, PhD or post doc programmes, or research scholarships. Within this theme, there was also support for mentorship programmes aimed at early career researchers, with particular attention given to North–South mentorship programmes. Collaboration and partnership was also a strong theme (115 comments), focusing principally on North–South research institution collaboration, although there was also notable support for South–South collaborations to build regional capacity.
“Build local capacity for research in low-income countries through North–South research collaborations and exchange of research competencies and best practices.” Quote from participant on how to improve research uptake
The importance of stipulating the inclusion of capacity building as part of the funding decision making was highlighted. Participants also noted the need for researchers to integrate research capacity building into their research design, so that they ensure a lasting legacy beyond programme completion. Capacity building can extend beyond researcher capacity to include in-country policymakers and programme managers. Core to success under this approach is developing research funding opportunities which respond to in-country need, and are more likely to be engaged with by in-country stakeholders.
Investment in the research infrastructure (64 comments), particularly in low-income country research institutions, was also seen as a key method to develop capacity.