On 27th February 2017, the Strengthening Capacity to Use Research Evidence in Health Policy (SECURE Health) programme hosted a fete for stakeholders and partners to commemorate its end after running the intended 3-year course. The event, held at the Sunbird Capital in Lilongwe, Malawi, brought together over 60 participants, including representatives from the Malawi Ministry of Health, the Malawi Parliament, donors, civil society organisations (CSOs), and members of the Malawi media fraternity. During the event, the SECURE Health programme shared the practical work and results from implementation of programme activities done in collaboration with the Malawi Ministry of Health and the Malawi Parliament.
Speaking at the event, the Chief of Health Services at the Malawi Ministry of Health, Dr. Charles Mwansambo said: “It is to the advantage of the Health sector to have had the SECURE Health programme which has added value to knowledge translation efforts Malawi. The SECURE health programme has so far contributed to the optimisation of leadership, technical and institutional capacity for increased use of research evidence in decision making. This is one of the areas that the sector has been lacking. I hope that even though the programme is coming to an end, the use of research evidence will be a culture in the health sector”.
Some of the successes that the SECURE Health programme has had include supporting the mid-term review of the National Health Research Agenda, developing Guidelines for evidence use in policymaking, hosting regular dialogues on priority health policy issues, training up to 36 mid-level staff in the Ministry of Health and Parliament on evidence-informed policy-making as well as facilitating the internship of two Malawi parliament research staff to the UK Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (UK-POST).
The Deputy Clerk of Parliament, Mr. J. J. Njolomeole, also acknowledged the need for timely evidence-based decision-making within the Parliament. He noted that it is important for parliamentary committees and the House to demand that the Executive provide the information necessary to enable Parliament to monitor key issues and make informed decisions. He further said that Parliament and its committees must demand annual departmental reports, audited annual reports of each Ministry, independent Auditor-General’s reports and any relevant executive documents to ensure proper oversight on the executive’s performance in its roles and responsibilities. The Clerk of the Parliament emphasized the fact that Members of Parliament need to have access to timely, up-to-date, accurate and well-researched information for effective decision-making which can only be provided by parliamentary staff who have knowledge on how to access, appraise, summarize and apply evidence.
The journey has been exciting and very fruitful. However, while the SECURE Health programme has demonstrated that it’s possible to successfully build capacity for evidence use in Malawi, it has only scratched the surface. More still needs to be done: Training Ministry of Health and Parliament staff at the district level in evidence-informed policymaking; disseminating the respective Guidelines for Evidence Use in Policymaking documents widely and promoting their usage at all levels of decision making; creating sustained support for regular dialogues deliberating evidence on urgent health issues in the country as well as increasing financial and human resources to the Research Units in the Parliament and the Ministry of Health.