Gulf between health researchers and doctors highlighted

Plenty of health research — but does it ever get implemented? Copyright: Flickrnic221

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[MEXICO CITY] Doctors in many developing countries are oblivious to research findings that could transform the effectiveness of their work, according to one of the first attempts to quantify the gulf between those who research and those who implement.

And most researchers do not take steps to share their findings, concluded the study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (3 May).

The researchers, who examined research and practice in four areas at the heart of the UN Millennium Development Goals, surveyed 1,500 healthcare providers and just over 300 researchers in 10 developing countries — China, Ghana, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos, Mexico, Pakistan, Senegal and Tanzania.

Healthcare providers — 85 per cent of whom were doctors — were asked whether they used research-based evidence to guide their work. Meanwhile, researchers were asked how they disseminated their findings.

Only five to eight per cent of the practitioners, who worked in the fields of malaria prevention, contraception, childhood diarrhoea or childhood tuberculosis, read scientific journals from high-income countries, such as The Lancet or the New England Journal of Medicine, once a month or more.

Some 18 per cent read journals from their own country once a month or more.

Only 18 per cent of the healthcare practitioners had access to the Internet, and just over half (54 per cent) could read English well.

Nevertheless, 85 per cent said they would change their work based on research performed or published locally.

"Most physicians read little, and would rather read in their own language and in local publications," Francisco Becerra-Posada, co-author of one of the studies, and senior consultant for the Council on Health Research for Development in Latin America, told SciDev.Net. This is "either because they are cheaper, or given to them for free, or because they can understand the language".

Meanwhile, less than half of the researchers were engaged in bridging activities, such as: providing systematic reviews of the research literature; providing access to a searchable database; or establishing or maintaining long-term partnerships with doctors and nurses.

"Translating relevant research into a language accessible to health practitioners and policy makers would aid this situation, but very few institutions are doing this," said Becerra.

Miguel González Block, director of the Centre for Health Systems Research at the National Instituteof Public Health of Mexico, who has been training health staff in understanding scientific research for the last five years, said that most hospitals in Mexico don’t have access to scientific journals or online databases but, even if they did, staff are not equipped to understand them.

There have been repeated calls for researchers, policy makers and healthcare providers to collaborate — the latest being the Bamako Call to Action on Research for Health, issued after the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health in 2008.

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