The state of the research for health environment in the ministries of health of the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS)


Background: An assessment of the state of the Research for Health (R4H) environment can provide relevant information about what aspects of national health research systems needs strengthening, so that research output can be relevant to meet national priorities for decision-making. There is limited information on the state of the R4H environment in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This article describes the state of the R4H environment within the Ministries of Health of the ECOWAS member states and outlines of some possibilities to strengthen health research activities within the ECOWAS region. 

Methods: Information on the national-level R4H environment (governance and management; existence of a national policy; strategic and research priorities documents; ethics committees; research funds; coordination structures; monitoring and evaluation systems; networking and capacity building opportunities) was collected from the Ministries of Health research units in 14 ECOWAS countries using self-administered questionnaires. A workshop was held where country report presentations and group discussions were used to review and validate responses. Data from the discussions was transcribed using Nvivo, and strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis of the functioning of the units was done using Robert Preziosi’s organisational diagnosis tool.

Results: The findings indicate that as of January 2011, 50% of ECOWAS countries had established directorates for health research with defined terms of reference. The existing funding mechanisms were inadequate to support the research structures within and outside the MoHs, and for building the capacity of researchers. Networking and monitoring activities were weak and only 7% of the directors of research units were trained in research
management. The majority (85.7%) of countries had broader national health policies, and 57% of the countries had some form of policy or strategic document for research development. Half of the countries had developed national research priorities.

Conclusions: These results call for urgent action to improve the research environment in the Ministries of Health in
the West African sub-region.

Keywords: National research systems, Research environment, Research for health, Research governance, Research management, West Africa



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