Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa, in 1998, passed a resolution (AFR/RC48/R4) which urged its Member States in the Region to develop national research policies and strategies and to build national health research capacities, particularly through resource allocation, training of senior officials, strengthening of research institutions and establishment of coordination mechanisms. The purpose of this study was to take stock of some aspects of national resources for health research in the countries of the Region; identify current constraints facing national health research systems; and propose the way forward.
Methods: A questionnaire was prepared and sent by pouch to all the 46 Member States in the WHO African Region through the WHO Country Representatives for facilitation and follow up. The health research focal person in each of the countries Ministry of Health (in consultation with other relevant health research bodies in the country) bore the responsibility for completing the questionnaire. The data were entered and analysed in Excel spreadsheet.
Results: The key findings were as follows: the response rate was 21.7% (10/46); three countries had a health research policy; one country reported that it had a law relating to health research; two countries had a strategic health research plan; three countries reported that they had a functional national health research system (NHRS); two countries confirmed the existence of a functional national health research management forum (NHRMF); six countries had a functional ethical review committee (ERC); five countries had a scientific review committee (SRC); five countries reported the existence of health institutions with institutional review committees (IRC); two countries had a health research programme; and three countries had a national health research institute (NHRI) and a faculty of health sciences in the national university that conducted health research. Four out of the ten countries reported that they had a budget line for health research in the Ministry of Health budget document.
Conclusion: Governments of countries of the African Region, with the support of development partners, private sector and civil society, urgently need to improve the research policy environment by developing health research policies, strategic plans, legislations, programmes and rolling plans with the involvement of all stakeholders, e.g., relevant sectors, research organizations, communities, industry and donors. In a nutshell, development of high-performing national health research systems in the countries of the WHO African Region, though optional, is an imperative. It may be the only way of breaking free from the current vicious cycle of ill-health and poverty.