Washington, D. C., February 7, 2008 (PAHO) - —PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses passionately affirmed today the critical importance of health research, particularly with regards to making sure that scientific knowledge and breakthroughs thanks to research development can truly and effectively be translated to the benefit of all peoples, both in developed as well as in developing countries alike.
In the opening of a day-long meeting here at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in Washington, D.C. convened to help define the contributing role and responsibilities of the institution in the overall promotion of health research, Dr. Roses said: "these are exciting times for research".
Dr. Roses also acknowledged the current existence of many disparate efforts in health research in the Americas and in other Regions of the world. "We can take advantage of that research but we have to integrate these efforts in a comprehensive, participatory manner, and we (PAHO/WHO) can provide that kind of umbrella."
With regards to the Americas in particular, Dr. Roses said that in the Region there is an increased awareness of the importance of research, particularly after first-ever Ministerial Summit on Health Research held in México (16-20 November 2004) by 52 WHO Member States to discuss the role of health research in improving health outcomes globally. Participants at that 2004 pioneering Summit called for the establishment and implementation of national health research agendas and the investment of 2% of national health expenditures into research and research capacity strengthening.
Dr. Roses today argued that it is very encouraging that PAHO Member States have incorporated research into the health agenda. "We are now in the process to define a Regional Health Research Policy", she said. There has been a lot of progress in the Region, she added.
"Some countries are very strong in research and we have to make sure that we all have the tools, the guides and the instruments to make sure that research is clearly embedded in health planning across the board. (…) If we don't include research in our dialogue with Member States we will be losing a critical moment."
Initial speakers at the meeting also included Dr. Tikki Pang, Director of the WHO Department of Research Policy and Cooperation, charged with strengthening the informational, scientific and ethical foundations of health research systems and enabling these to contribute effectively and efficiently to health system development, health improvement and health equity, particularly in developing countries.
According to Dr. Pang, there is a little bit of lack of coherence in the field of research within the WHO as a whole. "It is a bit fragmented", he said. "We need to strengthened the internal research culture and our hope is that you (referring to all experts at PAHO and from all of its Member States in the Americas and in all Regions of the world) can become agents of change" in this effort.
Global and Regional Research Strategy
From many countries of the Americas and other world regions, participants at the PAHO meeting acknowledged their commitment to jointly contribute to the development of the WHO research strategy that will be presented for discussion at the 2009 WHO General Assembly. That contribution was the driving forced behind today's meeting at PAHO as part of the ongoing global WHO reach to seek input from all Regions.
Speakers said that a core guiding value for such strategy will be to help democratize research and development so that knowledge is not just for the rich and is equitably used to improve health for all peoples.
A related WHO document produced in May 2006 indicates that several landmark events have raised awareness that improving population health in developing countries contributes to poverty reduction; that research is fundamental to achieving global health and development goals; and that health research needs increased investment. However, just as it was referred by Dr. Roses in her opening remarks, the document underscores the fundamental and critical problem with research and it's practical, real reach.
"Although billions of dollars have been earmarked for global health research and development and significant progress has been made, the knowledge gaps are still greatest in areas of health where most of the people affected are poor and marginalized" the WHO document says.
Harmonizing WHO's vision with national, regional and organizational stakeholders' needs is a crucial step in the development of a successful strategy, Dr. Roses indicated. "The broad consultation process undertaken by WHO under Dr. Pang's leadership will allow PAHO to actively contribute to the process and ensure that the policy will contemplate the necessary elements to advance health research in the Americas. Health research should be a tool to help reduce health inequities and improve public health in low and middle-income countries as well."
Dr. Roses thanked all those participating at the meeting. "Through our strong and ongoing dialogue, we can enrich this process to help develop a comprehensive health research policy that will reflect our regional needs and serve member states".
The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It serves as the Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO).