Repeated calls have been made in recent decades to increase investments in health research, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). However, the perceived low relevance and quality of health research, poor visibility of outputs, and difficulties in tracking current levels of and returns on investments have undermined efforts to advocate for additional investments in these countries. Some of these issues emanate from inadequate governance and management systems for health research at the national level, which are ineffective in tracking and steering the research portfolio and investments, ensuring quality, and facilitating access to research outputs. In spite of this, the value, necessity, and cost of performing health research management and governance functions are not well appreciated, especially in LMIC.
To address this, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for the Western Pacific organized an expert consultation in August 2011, involving experts from 14 of its developed and developing member states and from leading research organizations such as the Wellcome Trust.
The consultation identified essential health research governance and management functions that must be performed by appropriate organizational entities to maximize returns on health research investments. In addition, three specific areas for intervention were considered: (1) prospective research registration in publicly accessible national health research registries; (2) systematic health research data archiving and wider access; and (3) national research ethics systems.
A consensus was reached on the need to invest more in essential health research and management functions, including establishing publicly accessible web-based national health research registries for prospective registration of health research, setting up systems to archive and share health research data, and improving the governance of research ethics committees. The consultation also concluded that the costs of performing these functions are legitimate and necessary research costs that must be shouldered by research funding organizations.