Rapid funding tool opens to aid humanitarian research

Humanitarian disaster_Official U.S. Navy
Copyright: Flickr/Official U.S. Navy

Speed read

  • The facility offers pre-approved grants to allow the early study of crises
  • Up to now, researchers could only apply for funding once a disaster had hit
  • But full ethical approval will need to be secured swiftly for the tool to work

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A mechanism to rapidly release research grants is being launched today to help address the lack of data on public health interventions in humanitarian crises.

The Rapid Response Grants Facility will preapprove research proposals so that if such crises occur within the two-year lifetime of the grant, funds will swiftly be released, allowing research teams to be promptly deployed. The mechanism is funded by UK research charity the Wellcome Trust and the UK Department for International Development.

“This facility could greatly benefit our work, as we could plan in advance the research questions that need to be answered in an emergency and have better methodologies and operational systems in place.”

Carrie Teicher, Médecins Sans Frontières 

It is part of the Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC) programme, which was launched in June by the NGO Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance. It is the first funding mechanism designed to allow research to take place during the acute early stage of a crisis.
“There is a gap in the research being undertaken in the weeks following a crisis when the practical and ethical challenges of undertaking research in such settings are particularly heightened,” Daniel Davies, R2HC programme manager tells SciDev.Net.
Conventional research funding mechanisms are of limited use to researchers working during crises because most current grants require researchers to propose research questions and apply for funding in a specific context — yet it is impossible to know when a humanitarian crisis will occur.
Carrie Teicher, a surgical epidemiologist working for medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières, says the new mechanism may prove valuable.
“This facility could greatly benefit our work, as we could plan in advance the research questions that need to be answered in an emergency and, as such, have better methodologies and operational systems in place,” she tells SciDev.Net. “Then we could hit the ground running if that situation were to arise.” 
According to Davies, if the mechanism is to succeed, one practical challenge still needs to be addressed. It is important, he says, to ensure that the funds are distributed quickly after a disaster strikes, so that researchers can begin work in the field as soon as possible after a crisis begins.
“The acute phase of any humanitarian crisis involves particularly vulnerable populations, but dealing with hypothetical situations makes it difficult to secure proper ethical approval and oversight for research,” he says.
To ensure these concerns are addressed, the R2HC programme has commissioned a review of ethical frameworks for research in humanitarian settings.
Calls for research proposals are now open, with a total of up to £1 million (around US$1.6 million) available for grants.
Not only will the facility allow research for health interventions to commence faster than current funding mechanisms permit, but Teicher believes that it will also produce better quality data. She says being able to plan data collection protocols in advance will lead to “more accurate data, resulting in more relevant operational knowledge for next time”.
Link to call for proposals