Systematic analysis of research underfunding in maternal and perinatal health


  • NM Fisk,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Imperial College London, London, UK
    2. The University of Queensland, UQ Centre for Clinical Research, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
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  • R Atun

    1. Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London, London, UK
    2. Strategic Policy and Performance Cluster, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Geneva, Switzerland
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Prof NM Fisk, University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, RBWH Campus, Herston, Brisbane, Queensland 4029, Australia. Email


Background  Little published evidence supports the widely held contention that research in pregnancy is underfunded compared with other disease areas.

Objectives  To assess absolute and relative government and charitable funding for maternal and perinatal research in the UK and internationally.

Search strategy, selection criteria, data collection, and analysis  Major research funding bodies and alliances were identified from an Internet search and discussions with opinion leaders/senior investigators. Websites and annual reports were reviewed for details of strategy, research spend, grants awarded, and allocation to maternal and/or perinatal disease using generic and disease-specific search terms.

Main results  Within the imprecision in the data sets, ≤1% of health research spend in the UK was on maternal/perinatal health. Other countries fared better with 1–4% investment, although nonexclusive categorisation may render this an overestimate. In low-resource settings, government funders focused on infectious disease but not maternal and perinatal health despite high relative disease burden, while global philanthropy concentrated on service provision rather than research. Although research expenditure has been deemed as appropriate for ‘reproductive health’ disease burden in the UK, there are no data on the equity of maternal/perinatal research spend against disease burden, which globally may justify a manyfold increase.

Author’s conclusions  This systematic review of research expenditure and priorities from national and international funding bodies suggests relative underinvestment in maternal/perinatal health. Contributing factors include the low political priority given to women’s health, the challenging nature of clinical research in pregnancy, and research capacity dearth as a consequence of chronic underinvestment.