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[BAMAKO] Several key African countries have done "very little" to invest in health research since pledging to do so at a world meeting of health and science ministers in Mexico four years ago, say critics.

But others – including Tanzania, Rwanda and Mali – have made significant progress in investing in their health research.

Basic statistical information is missing in many countries, technical knowledge is poor and there is a gap between the producers of knowledge and the policymakers who need it, speakers said at the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health in Bamako, Mali (16 November).

''For Nigeria — and for many other countries — we don't know how many deaths there are and we don't know the causes of those deaths," said Timothy Evans, assistant director-general of the WHO.

Carel Ijsselmuiden, the director of the Swiss-based non-profit Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), also cited Nigeria as an example of a country that had done ''very little'' since the government attended the 2004 meeting. And Phillip Agomo, acting director-general of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), conceded that Nigeria has moved more slowly than it would have liked in health research.

''To do research is difficult in Nigeria,'' Agomo said, due to poor infrastructure, a shortage of technical knowledge, and ''un-cooperative research participants". He called for the recruitment of ''people who are focused, who have the ability to learn and can design research methods that can work".

Pat Naidoo of Canada's International Development and Research Centre (IDRC), which is funding health research projects in the Nigerian states of Cross River and Bauchi said: ''The challenge remains to close the knowledge gap, translating knowledge so that policy makers can understand it. From the projects we are working on in Nigeria, we know Nigeria is not yet at this stage.''

In contrast Mali, where the conference is taking place, was praised for being ''on the right track''.

Mali's policy of equitable health care was a ''marker of good governance'', said Luis Sambo, the former vice-minister of health for Angola and current African director for the World Health Organization, (WHO).

The governments of Rwanda and Tanzania were also praised -- for investing in their own health research. Along with Uganda, they have developed systematic ways to collect the kind of information that would enable them to  identify their own research priorities, said Naidoo.

But Uganda's problems were also highlighted. It lacks even a list of health research priorities, said Ijsselmuiden, who is also a member of the South African Research Ethics Training Initiative (SARETI). He told a press conference that there is no formal health research policy in Uganda, and no director of research in the health ministry.

Meanwhile many developing countries complained that donor agencies are setting the health priorities in the developing world.

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