"Civil society organizations (CSOs) can play a key role in research and innovation for health and can help ensure its local relevance and better use."
Based on the above-quoted conviction, the Council for Health Research and Development (COHRED) has been working to highlight the need for CSOs to be involved in research for health. COHRED notes that, in many low- and middle-income countries, CSOs are not systematically involved in the research for health, despite being well positioned to contribute in valuable ways. It is hoped that the discussions, the sharing of tools and stories, and the networking opportunities created can contribute to profiling the role of CSOs in research for health and to strengthening their capacity and voice in research for health.
COHRED and its partners pointed to this challenge during the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health (Bamako, Mali, March 2008) and issued a call for action [PDF] during the Ministerial Forum. A Wellcome Trust International Engagement Award supported the preparatory work for this call for action. The Forum 2012 meeting of the Global Forum for Health Research provided another opportunity to engage CSOs in the global debate on research for health. CSO representatives identified that they needed to strengthen their capacity to identify advocacy issues, simplify messages for community action, and build relationships with research institutions and governments.
Following the Bamako meeting, COHRED continued its work on enabling a stronger voice of CSOs in research for health. This resulted in the development of an online platform - Health Research Web - that includes information from over 300 global and local CSOs. The goal is to provide participating CSOs with the opportunity to showcase their work, network with colleagues around the world, demonstrate best practices, share stories, tools and resources, and engage with peers in discussion topics of common concern. For instance, one section focuses on governance and policies: "Effective governance and management structures (for example, research councils, an academy of sciences, a national research committee, or a directorate of research in the ministry of health or ministry of science and technology, or both) and a clear and unambiguous research policy framework (that can provide for health and research priority setting, research monitoring and evaluation, research communication, ethics review, research financing, and much more) are also of major importance for external funders or collaborators of research - indeed for anyone wishing to conduct research in or with the country concerned. This section provides information on key institutions, mechanisms, processes and policies dealing with research for health in this country."
COHRED has also developed action guides that can be used by CSOs, governments, research institutions, and other actors to critically reflect on how best to build on the capacity of CSOs in strengthening research and innovation for health at the country-level.
The organisation works with countries in strengthening their research and innovation system for health. If requested, emphasis can be given to ensuring appropriate involvement of CSOs in research system strengthening activities - for example, in the research agenda process.
According to COHRED, CSOs by their nature have a holistic approach to health and development. They often promote, contribute to, or conduct research on health and its determinants. In addition, through their direct contact with communities, they can bring different cultural perspectives to the research arena, hold governments accountable, comment on policies, identify additional research that is needed, engage with research institutions, and lobby national and international governments for action. CSOs give a human face to research and are in a unique position to add value and build on local capacity.
COHRED is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) whose primary objective is to strengthen research for health and innovation systems, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries. COHRED supports countries to use research for health and innovation to: improve health and reduce health inequities; improve health sector performance and accountability; encourage donor alignment and harmonisation; link research for health with science, technology, and innovation; and generate economic and social prosperity.
Some funding was provided by the Wellcome Trust.
Email from Erika Silva to The Communication Initiative on October 11 2012; and COHRED website, October 15 2012.