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  • WHO gets go-ahead for health system research


[GENEVA] Proposals endorsed last year by the world's health ministers to increase global spending on research into the provision of the health services have been endorsed by the World Health Assembly (WHA), the body that governs the World Health Organization (WHO).

Representatives of the 192 nations represented on the WHA gave their backing on Wednesday (25 May) to a recommendation that was initially approved by the 58-country Ministerial Health Research Summit, held in Mexico in November 2004.

As a result, the WHO has been given the green light to introduce research components into major health policy initiatives and policy actions, such as polio eradication. It is also actively encouraged to strengthen coordination of health research policy among its existing research activities.

These include the special programmes of Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), the initiative for Vaccine Research (IVR), as well as the work of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the Advisory Committee on Health Research (ACHR), and the WHO's Department of Research Policy and Cooperation (RPC).

Efforts to increase public support for research into health systems is widely seen as complementing other efforts in the biomedical research field, such as Grand Challenges in Global Health, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates initiative is primarily intended to encourage biomedical researchers to develop new physical health technologies, and Gates himself berated the WHA last week for its inaction on building up the systems to put such technologies into practice (see Health systems: orphans of research).

The resolution also encourages governments to take similar action at a national level. Last November, the minister of health in the Philippines told RealHealthNews that solid research into health systems would enable him to strengthen his arguments in cabinet for funds to improve his health system, and thus raise the health of the people of the Philippines.

The resolution approved last week by the WHA also calls for a central "portal" in Geneva for registering all clinical trials. Although this recommendation had been approved by health ministers at the Mexico meeting, it had been fiercely resisted by the pharmaceutical industry.

Industry critics claim that this is partly because trials showing negative findings on drugs are often suppressed. But the central register was finally accepted as a fait accompli by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Associations, IFPMA, during a technical committee meeting at the WHA.

In a rearguard action, companies will create their own parallel register. But WHO officials say they will be required to meet agreed standards of ethics and openness.

This article is based on a report in the current issue of RealHealthNews.

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