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[ARUSHA, Tanzania] Programmes to boost health and biomedical research capacity in the developing world must include strategies to increase both the number of female scientists and the attention paid to the health problems of women, according to a senior health researcher at Bristol University's School of Policy Studies in the United Kingdom.

Speaking in Arusha, Tanzania, at the sixth annual conference of the Global Forum for Health Research, Lesley Doyal said that in most countries, there is a marked absence of both female researchers and women as the subjects of research. "This is especially true in those countries where research capacity is least developed."

She therefore proposed that policies to enhance research capacity should "include strategies for removing the obstacles that currently limit the numbers of women able to enter medical research and to proceed through the career structure on equal terms with men."

Failure to incorporate sex and gender into research designs, Doyal warned, could produce misleading results, which are "likely to lead to avoidable mortality, morbidity and disability as well as wasted expenditure of scarce resources". The findings would also be less likely to reflect the interests of women, she said.

Doyal appealed to all those involved in commissioning and funding research to take issues of gender seriously. "Whether they are private companies, government bodies, research councils or charities, an appropriate recognition of gender issues should be one of the criteria used for evaluating both the relevance and the scientific quality of proposals."

Researchers were advised to be aware of gender concerns at all stages of their work, from the initial design to the dissemination process. Doyal said that gender-sensitive studies of this kind would be difficult to achieve without a coherent set of policies to build capacity among researchers.

"Although such policies are now beginning to emerge in a few of the developed countries, for the 10/90 gap to be tacked in the most effective and equitable way, they will need to be spread more widely." Guidelines and educational tools must be developed to encourage greater awareness of these issues among health researchers, she said.

Africa 'must commit itself to health research'

Photo credit: WHO/P. Virot