Evidence-informed policy making and status update (HIV and TB)
The presentation of an award to a distinguished African researcher marked the end of the second day of proceedings in Lusaka during the Eighth Forum of the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP).
EDCTP aims to attack poverty in Africa through advancing research into the infectious diseases that play such a major part in holding back progress. A key part of this process is encouraging and mentoring young African scientists in their careers. This has led EDCTP to create a Scientific Leadership Award for senior researchers who have excelled in this area. The latest award has gone to Professor Shabir Mahdi. In accepting his award, Prof. Mahdi said he was pleased to have been honoured by EDCTP as the network’s priorities are so similar to his own, including the development of human resource capacity in Africa and the bringing together of different communities. While praising the work of EDCTP he also called for more support to be given in neglected research areas, including pneumococcal disease and infections leading to stillbirths. The Award, which is made only after rigorous review by an independent panel, is one of the four awards now made by EDCTP.
The presentation of the Scientific Leadership Award was a fitting climax to a day in which delegates to the Forum discussed ways in which the achievements of EDCTP, since its launch in 2003, could be built upon. Michael Makanga, EDCTP Executive Director, reminded the meeting of the programme’s vision, mission and the objectives that have been set. Since the launch of the second phase of the programme two years ago the focus of EDCTP has been considerably broadened to include more diseases, to devote more attention to research to improve diagnosis, and to include more study types. Fourteen nations in Europe and 14 in Africa are part of the EDCTP network, with a growing number of other partners. Currently activities are taking place in 23 African countries. Dr Makanga cited just one recent research project as an example of an important finding resulting from EDCTP support – resistance to TB drugs in West Africa has been shown to be much more common than previously estimated.
Professor Jimmy Volmink of Stellenbosch University, South Africa, then gave a comprehensive presentation on evidence-based policy making. Health policies should be based on reliable research evidence but this is seldom the case. He discussed ways in which knowledge from research can be ‘translated’ so that policy makers can fully understand it and use it in decision making. He highlighted the role of systematic reviews of all the available evidence. He noted that evidence based on data collected in lower and middle income countries is still inadequate, and that in the real world reaching policy decisions is still ‘a messy business’. (The challenge of getting research findings into practice was also the main focus of an internal EDCTP ‘high-level’ meeting that has also taken place during the Forum; EDCTP now regards this as an important part of its remit and will become more involved in knowledge translation.)
The next two presentations were ‘status updates’ on the current situations in the battles against HIV/AIDS and against tuberculosis. The roles that EDCTP could play were emphasised. Dr Catherine Hankins of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, Netherlands, stressed that the HIV epidemic is not over. She reported on the encouraging progress that has been made, but many challenges lie ahead. There are several groups of people who are lagging behind, in that the incidence of new cases amongst them is still high and treatment success is less common. These groups include young women, sex workers, drug users and men who have sex with men. Speaking on the subject of TB, Professor Gerhard Walzl summed up the most urgent areas for TB research.
There were also presentations from representatives of four organisations about the work they do and how they feel they could further contribute to the EDCTP programme. Comments on the presentations were opened up to the floor.