Purpose: The purpose of this study is to examine levels of health research evidence in health policies in Malawi.
Design/methodology/approach: The study selected a typology of health policies in Malawi from 2002 to 2017. The study adopted the SPIRIT conceptual framework and assessed the levels of research evidence in health policy, systems and services research using the revised SAGE policy assessment tool. Documentary analysis was used to assess levels of health research evidence in health policies in Malawi.
Findings: In 29 (96.7 per cent) of the health policies, policy formulators including healthcare directors and managers used generic search engines such as Google or Google Scholar to look for heath research evidence. In 28 (93.3 per cent) of the health policies, they searched for grey literature and other government documents. In only 6 (20 per cent) of the heath policy documents, they used academic literature in a form of journal articles and randomised controlled trials. No systematic reviews or policy briefs were consulted. Overall, in 23 (76.7 per cent) of the health policy documents, health research evidence played a minimal role and had very little influence on the policy documents or decision-making.
Research limitations/implications: The empirical evidence in the health policy documents are limited because of insufficient research citation, low retrievability of health research evidence in the policy documents and biased selectivity of what constitutes health research evidence.
Practical implications: The study indicates that unfiltered information (data from policy evaluations and registries) constitutes majority of the research evidence in health policies both in health policy, systems and services research. The study seeks to advocate for the use of filtered information (peer reviewed, clinical trials and data from systematic reviews) in formulating health policies.
Originality/value: There is dearth of literature on the levels of health research evidence in health policy-making both in health policy, systems and services research. This study seeks to bridge the gap with empirical evidence from a developing country perspective.
Keywords: Evidence-based practice; Health policy; Knowledge translation; Levels of research; SAGE assessment tool; Spirit.