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  • Bamako 'Call to Action' unites 69 countries on health research

[BAMAKO] Ministers from across the developing world say they want to take control of their own health research agendas as part of a wish list presented at the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health yesterday (19 November).

Launching the much-awaited 'Call to Action' at the closing event of the Forum they said they want to prioritise policies dealing with research for health and improve coordination between ministries so that their respective countries can have more ownership of research.

The 'Bamako Call to Action' is the fruit of four years of regional meetings, questionnaires, forum discussions, a survey of key stakeholders and, this week, the Forum, involving three days of ministerial discussions and parallel sessions. Held in Bamako, Mali, it was attended by ministers and their representatives from 69 countries.

In their communiq ministers urged funding agencies to coordinate their own priorities with those of developing countries and better match their research agendas with those of other agencies.

They said that governments should allocate two per cent of their health ministry budgets to research, and improve capacity at every stage of the research system — from identifying national research priorities to acting upon research and carrying out assessments of that implementation.

To encourage grassroots input, civil society and community organisations should be included in the entire research process.

Other major goals include a call for engagement with the private sector and the promotion of 'eHealth'. And there are specific goals such as the implementation of the recommendations of the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health and the possible creation of a "World Day for Research to Health" each year.

The WHO said the Forum was of major importance because it was the first such gathering to consider how different kinds of research – "not only health but also higher education, environment, security and socio-economic research" – can be harnessed to improve health. It was also significant because it enabled interaction between policymakers, research leaders and civil society representatives.

The WHO said that the Call to Action would be "used as a blueprint for research development approaches".

Ok Pannenborg, a senior health advisor at the World Bank, said: "The World Bank Group is extremely happy with the outcome, with its focus on research and innovation and research for health. This call will play a huge role in World Bank workings in the next four years".

But critics said several serious gaps remain.

"There are no mechanisms in the call," said Damson Kathyola, director of research at the Malawian Ministry of Health. "The WHO should [now] create innovation mechanisms for the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the strategies in the call.

"We know that we need research to improve the health situation of our people in our countries. But there is a disconnect between policy and the implementers. Who's going to implement this?"

Other delegates said the document was too similar to the Call for Action produced at the meeting's predecessor — the Global Ministerial Summit on Health Research in Mexico in 2004 (see  Looking for Concrete Results on SciDev.Net's Bamako blog).

The communiqué will be submitted to the 2009 World Health Assembly and the UNESCO General Conference.