Rita Kabra
Marco Castillo
Mercedes Melián
Moazzam Ali
Lale Say
A. Metin Gulmezoglu
Publication Date
March 7, 2017

Department of Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organization, or WHO (Kabra, Ali, Say, Gulmezoglu); Paraguayan Center for Population Studies, or CEPEP (Castillo, Melián)

This paper presents the case study of World Health Organization (WHO) Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP)'s efforts to build research capacity in Latin America by studying and analysing the 5-year history of institutional development support to the Paraguayan Center for Population Studies (CEPEP) in Paraguay. The authors discuss the strengths in the approaches used by HRP, as well as the challenges and outcomes of the process, and present recommendations for future efforts to strengthen research capacity to improve sexual and reproductive health (SRH). They argue that greater support and collaborative efforts of developmental partners and governments is required to strengthen research capacity in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to improve SRH.

As background, the authors explain that the HRP is a collaboration between WHO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF, and World Bank whose global mandate is to lead research and to conduct research capacity strengthening efforts in the field of SRH and rights. Since HRP's inception in 1972, Research Capacity Strengthening (RCS)/HRP has provided long-term support to 103 institutions in 55 countries, working to develop their research capacity, address priority needs, and build national self-reliance in research on human reproduction. CEPEP, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) founded in March 1966, is one of those institutions. Reportedly, since its inception, "CEPEP has played a pioneering role in promoting SRH in the country by offering reproductive health care services in poor neighborhoods of Asuncion (the capital) and the countryside."

During the first 5 years of the long-term institutional development (LID) grant (2009-2014), based on gaps identified by the institution, training support was provided on data analysis (quantitative/qualitative), multivariate analysis, scientific writing, dissemination of research results, and library management. Within a programme of South-South collaboration devised by HRP/RCS to develop the expertise of emerging centres for research, the Centro de Estudios de Poblacion (CENEP) in Argentina was given a research project mentoring (RPM) grant to mentor CEPEP. A mentor-mentee relationship developed between the two institutions, with staff visiting each other's institution to work together on developing and implementing research protocols. Following the training, technical support from HRP, and continuous mentoring by CENEP, CEPEP conducted several research projects. For example, a study on "Intimate partner violence and reproductive coercion against women" aimed to describe the individual and societal mechanisms and circumstances around violence against women in Paraguay. The results were presented in the Regional Seminar on Intimate Partner Violence held in Asuncion in 2015 with the support of WHO.

A key focus of the HRP/LID grant was knowledge resource management, including the reorganisation and expansion of CEPEP's library. In 2009, an expert librarian from CENEP conducted a capacity building workshop on "Electronic Resources Management", which 19 librarians from 14 different libraries in Paraguay attended. The training course "helped to create linkages within this small community of librarians in Paraguay and to share knowledge not otherwise easily accessible in the country."

One of the objectives of HRP/RCS programme is to support researchers from LMICs to disseminate their research findings. Before CEPEP became a LID grantee, CEPEP had published results of SRH surveys, policy briefs, summaries of research results in monograph form. Following the training on scientific writing and dissemination of research results, there began a shift towards publishing in national and international scientific peer reviewed–journals, developing policy briefs, and participating and organising congresses and seminars. "By organizing advocacy seminars, CEPEP contributed in creating a scientific environment in Paraguay, increased the visibility of the institute, and presented research findings to different stakeholders. This process, together with CEPEP's previous work is increasingly contributing in creating a milieu where research results are accepted as important inputs for projects and programs, resulting in more research informed policies and practice. Staff from CEPEP now sits on national SRH research policy planning bodies, thereby influencing the development of reproductive health programmes and the National agenda in their countries. The three latest National Reproductive Health Plans have all been evaluated by and developed in consultation with CEPEP." According to the report, HRP support also helped in increasing the credibility, visibility, linkages, and confidence of the CEPEP researchers, as well as in contributing to the institution's sustainability.

The authors suggest that, although this is an example from Latin America, countries in other regions can similarly benefit from HRP's strategy of research capacity strengthening. They recommend that similar modalities and strategies of linking LID and RPM grants (within the region) be used in other countries/regions and call for greater support from development partners and governments for strengthening research capacity to improve SRH. Among the specific suggestions they offer based on lessons learned from their experience: Increase collaboration between mature and emerging research centres for further strengthening the research environment.


Reproductive Health (2017) 14:35 DOI 10.1186/s12978-016-0222-0 - via a posting to the IBP Consortium on March 9 2017. Image credit: CEPEP