Decision-makers in Africa are increasingly recognising the importance of applying evidence in policy and practice. However, actual evidence use remains sub-optimal due to many factors including weak networks between researchers and policymakers, ineffective dissemination of research evidence, weak capacity among policymakers to apply research evidence, and politics and individual interests, among others. In the last decade, there have been concerted efforts to build the capacity of researchers in Africa to produce credible research evidence and disseminate this in ways and formats that are accessible to policymakers. However, there has not been much focus on building the capacity of policymakers to source, appraise and use research evidence.
The SECURE Health programme, our response
In response to this gap, the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) has rolled out a programme whose aim is to optimise individual and institutional capacity in accessing and utilising data and research evidence in decision-making for health in Kenya and Malawi. Dubbed ‘SECURE Health’ (Strengthening Capacity to Use Research Evidence in Health Policy), the programme has two main objectives:
To achieve these objectives, the programme is working with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and Parliament in Kenya and Malawi to identify and address bottlenecks to evidence utilisation through focused high-level advocacy, targeted policy dialogues, training workshops for mid-level policymakers, science policy cafés, internships, increased participation of policymakers in research forums and of researchers in policy forums, and strengthening of various institutional support mechanisms for evidence use. The three-year SECURE Health programme, running from Nov 2013-Oct 2016, is being implemented by a consortium of five institutions led by AFIDEP. Other institutions include the College of Medicine at the University of Malawi; the Consortium for National Health Research (CNHR) – Kenya; the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC); and FHI 360. The UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) is a collaborating partner leading implementation of one of the programme’s interventions on building the capacity of parliamentary staff in Kenya and Malawi through internships at the UK Parliament.
The expected immediate outcome of the programme is enhanced institutional and individual leadership and capacity to use research evidence and data in decision-making. This should lead to the programme’s overall outcome of increased demand and use of research evidence in health sector decision-making in Kenya and Malawi that should ultimately help reduce disease burden in the two countries through improved health policies and intervention programmes.
Programme beneficiaries centrally engaged
The SECURE Health programme has been developed on the premise that for any capacity building programme to be more effective, the beneficiaries have to appreciate the importance of the programme and their actual needs have to inform the development of the programme’s interventions. Thus, during the programme’s just-concluded inception phase (Nov 2013-July 2014), AFIDEP has held extensive consultations with senior and mid-level officials in the Ministry of Health and Parliament in both countries and conducted a comprehensive needs assessment. The information generated has been used to refine the programme’s interventions to ensure they address the actual needs of the beneficiaries.
Demonstrating the importance and demand for the SECURE Health programme, both the Ministry of Health and Parliament in Kenya and Malawi have come on board as partners in the programme to ensure that they are centrally involved in the design and delivery of the programme interventions. In each country, a steering committee comprising senior Ministry and Parliament officials, has been established to provide strategic guidance and leadership to the programme.
Launching the programme’s steering committee in Kenya on May 8, 2014, the Principal Secretary for Health, Prof Fred Segor, said, “the SECURE Health programme is in tandem with our efforts for the realisation of the Ministry’s goals because we need programmes that support our use of data in enabling us to make better decisions and plans.” Last year, the Ministry of Health in Kenya established a Health Research and Development Division to spearhead research utilisation. The division has now incorporated the SECURE Health programme as part of its work plan to support achievement of its objectives.
In Malawi, the SECURE Health programme has been incorporated under the Malawi Knowledge Translation Platform (KTP), whose main purpose is to engage national-level policymakers, researchers and implementers in a coordinated approach to generate and utilise health-sector research in Malawi more effectively. During AFIDEP’s high-level consultations in Malawi to introduce the programme to the Ministry in February 2014, the Principal Secretary, Dr. Christopher Kang’ombe said, “the programme has come at an opportune time and will enhance the other activities that are on the ground in the Ministry”. He advised that the SECURE Health programme be embedded in the Ministry’s research division to ensure that it supports the realisation of the Ministry’s goals. The Malawi Parliament has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the SECURE Health programme in order to formalise the partnership; this demonstrates the importance that the institution has placed on the programme.
The Kenya SECURE Health Programme was launched on August 5, 2014, in an event that marked the beginning of the programme’s implementation phase.
Speaking at the launch event, Dr. Nicholas Muraguri, the Director of Medical Services at the Ministry of Health, outlined the ways in which the Ministry will address barriers to research use. Among these included the formation of advisory teams that would, every year, synthesise emerging research evidence on the different health policy issues and advise him on the policy options that the Ministry needs to take in order to tackle the issues, and the revival of the library within the Ministry. These interventions are clearly central to the SECURE Health programme, and thus, we will work closely with Dr. Muraguri in his efforts to strengthen evidence uptake within the Ministry. To ensure that the impact of the SECURE Health programme extends beyond Kenya and Malawi, lessons from the two countries will be shared through ECSA-HC’s annual regional platforms that convene 10-member states in East, Central and Southern Africa.
In their own words
“I appreciate the comprehensiveness of your programme; you are not just focusing on internships, but also doing workshops and engaging senior management.” Ms. Velia Manyonga, Principal Research Officer, Parliament of Malawi.
“Listening to this programme makes one salivate because it has come at a very opportune time. In Parliament we have a huge skills gap. As clerks, we are never trained about our work, we learn on the job. So this programme will be critical on building our skills on research use.” Mr. Mike Chiuswa, Head of Committees, and principal Clerk Assistant, Parliament of Malawi.
“The programme should target all committee clerks within parliament in its training since clerks are not specialised and are often assigned different committees. We also have two research staff who should be part of the training.” Mr. Roosevelt Gondwe, Acting Clerk of Parliament, Malawi, advising the SECURE Health programme on effective ways of working with the Parliament on its training interventions.
“…the SECURE Health programme will contribute to filling critical skills gaps and other missing support mechanisms in research use within Parliament”. Mr. Bonnie Mathooko, Head of the Research Unit, Parliament of Kenya.
The SECURE Health programme is funded under DFID’s larger programme on Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE). Details on the BCURE programme and other partners can be found at http://bcureglobal.wordpress.com.