Expert Consultation on Improving Health Research Management, Governance and Data Sharing in the Western Pacific
Dr Shin Young-soo
World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific
Ladies and gentlemen.
Welcome to this expert consultation on improving health research management and data-sharing in the Western Pacific.
Let's start by reminding ourselves of two of the core responsibilities of all of us involved in public health work:
First, setting norms and standards, and second, identifying evidence-based policy options.
The ability to do either of these is based on the availability of credible research evidence.
In fact, the importance of health research is reflected in the next World Health Report, which will be titled “No Health Without Research”.
I am sure we all agree on the value of good evidence when we are developing policies and programmes.
But is research as effective and credible as it could be?
For years, there have been growing calls for more spending on health research.
We are all in favour of that, of course, but we must not lose sight of the need for quality research and better use of funds.
Recently there has been substantial increase in the production of new knowledge to the point of "information overload".
Yet, often there is a lack of relevant evidence to inform important clinical and programme decisions.
Systematic reviews tell us time and time again that the evidence base is inadequate.
Investment in research is like any other investment: a return is expected.
But the returns on health research investments are often poor.
And this brings us to the issue of better governance and management of health research.
Most countries, particularly developing countries, have insufficient governance and management systems for health research.
This means they cannot manage and fully utilize the investments they have made in research.
They cannot guide and monitor research.
And they cannot ensure that research addresses the health issues that are most important for their country.
Poor governance and management means a potential for duplication, non-reporting, non-use of research findings and inefficient use of scarce public resources.
Much can be done to improve the overall governance and management of health research and this in turn can improve the credibility, transparency, efficiency and quality of research.
The result: better health outcomes.
Another issue for this consultation is the effective use of public health data generated by research programmes.
All too often data are treated as the property of individual researchers, or they languish in a computer in a government office.
One initiative that has played a key role in advancing public health in developing countries is the "Demographic & Health Surveys", started by USAID in the late 1980s.
The databases generated by these surveys have demonstrated trends in infant and maternal mortality rates over time, highlighted trends in diseases and identified changes in care-seeking behaviours.
What sets the “Demographic & Health Surveys” different from other less successful initiatives is its ‘open data policy’.
The databases are routinely archived and made freely available to the wider research community.
The surveys are seen as the gold standard of research and have helped countless policy-makers and programme managers make smarter decisions.
I hope this eminent body of experts will examine these issues in depth, and produce practical recommendations that can be implemented by all the Member States in the near future.
With this, I officially open this expert consultation and wish you a very productive and successful meeting.
And I hope you have an enjoyable stay in Manila.