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  • Scientist–policymaker misunderstandings 'hindering research'


[BAMAKO] Tense relations between scientists and policy-makers are a barrier to ensuring science achieves its potential impact on health in Africa, delegates at the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health heard.

The two groups perceive each other to have different world views and different timeframes for action — and policymakers say scientists provide overly technical, inaccessible information.

These were the findings of a consultation with both researchers and policymakers, carried out by the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Swiss Tropical Research Institute.

The results were presented yesterday (17 November) at the forum in Bamako, Mali.

The team sent a web-based questionnaire to African and Northern scientists and African policymakers asking about their experiences of interacting with each other. They also carried out semi-structured interviews.

Ninety-five per cent of the respondents agreed that positive interaction between researchers and policymakers is essential for increasing the impact of research, said Julie Murugi, a research officer at COHRED, who presented the findings.

Respondents called for new mechanisms for interaction between researchers and policymakers. They also suggested the creation of incentives for each group to become involved in the other's work, such as institutions encouraging researchers to communicate outside the usual realm of scientific papers. Research policy briefs aimed at broad audiences are also vital if evidence-based policymaking is to become a reality at a national level.

Researchers are not necessarily the appropriate people to write such policy briefs, Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal, told the session. She suggested instead the use of "skilled intermediaries".

Nelson Sewankambo, dean of the medical school at Makarere University, Uganda, urged researchers not to abandon their work after it was published. Instead they should become champions for it, pursuing dialogue with policymakers. This could eventually lead to researchers and policymakers working together on producing a dissemination strategy.

Sewankambo highlighted a success story that demonstrated that researchers and policymakers could work well together in the right circumstances — the establishment of a policy to provide nevirapine to expectant mothers to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The practice was introduced only two years after the results of a study were published.

"The research addressed a burning issue at the time. HIV was very important to policymakers, they were anxious and looking out for research," he said.

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