Australia’s NGOs, research community and government are investing heavily in building health programs for developing countries that directly link patient care with research and data collection.
Professor James Beeson, head of the Center for Biomedical Research with the Burnet Institute, is a leader in this space and says that research and evidence-based policy is a much needed focus in development health care.
“We, at our institute, have the philosophy that you don’t do health care without research — the two need to go hand in hand,” Beeson told Devex. “It is something we and others in Australia have been pushing for and we are hoping to make progress on that.”
Aid programs are often criticized for a lack of evidence on their effectiveness, he said. “My own personal view is that there has not been enough done by our own government and other governments to get the evidence that is needed to support the aid programs.”
Building out research and evidence today will impact health care services to developing communities in the future through better directed services, smarter use of resources and solutions that meet the needs of the country and community receiving support, he said.
For NGOs, these developments would mean better access to information, which could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of programming. Devex compiled a list of innovations and initiatives on the cutting edge of change.
Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies
More than 5,000 babies die each year in Papua New Guinea, an unacceptably high figure worsened by the country’s high maternal death rates and low birth weights. Limited data on the women and children’s health, causes of death and illness, and a range of other public health concerns means decisions are based on best guesses — and may be missing the mark.
Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, a project led by Beeson and the Burnet Institute, is hoping to plug gaps in care as well as research. In collaboration with the Papua New Guinea government, University of Papua New Guinea and Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies will develop an integrated, longitudinal study of diseases, outcomes and health service utilization for reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health. Data will be collected from pregnancy through to the baby’s first birthday to quantify major preventable causes of high mortality rates.
This research aims to identify, test and ultimately demonstrate better ways of delivering healthcare to rural and disadvantaged areas of the country. Better use of health and immunization clinics for babies will be one idea tested, expanding the services to include health care for mothers at the same time. It is believed this will increase the care women receive after childbirth.
The outcomes of this five-year research program stand to influence the future of health care markets well beyond Papua New Guinea.
“The idea of getting evidence from research for policy and development in PNG is a test case for how we can strengthen the ties between research and the health authorities,” Beeson told Devex. “We really want to link the research to development assistance by providing evidence on how and where it can best be spent.”
Australia’s first humanitarian doctoral research program
Médecins Sans Frontières Australia and the Australian National University expect research to be critical to the future of health care service delivery in developing countries. Through a new academic partnership, they are investing to be leaders in this space.
Announced in September, MSF and ANU are seeking applicants for a newly established humanitarian doctoral research program set to begin in 2017. Disciplines required for the degree include medicine, psychology, epidemiology, statistics and biostatistics.
Both MSF and ANU staff will supervise research students, ensuring the research has both academic and practical value to development. The research produced through the collaboration will be used to address a variety of health issues in developing countries and regions affected by humanitarian crises, contributing to evidence-based policy and practice.
More information will be made available next year, including on initial research projects and expected development outcomes.
Better data for health partnerships
The better data for health partnership, is one of their new approaches. The $100 million partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide improved data on births, death, health risks and better analysis for evidence-based decision-making.
“Support for improved basic health services is an important element of the Australian aid program,” a spokesperson for DFAT explained to Devex. “But health services can only ever be one part of the solution to improving population health. The innovationXchange is exploring complex development problems in the Indo-Pacific region, such as malnutrition, to find new multidisciplinary approaches that increase the chance of positive impacts.”
The Australian focus of this program is filling gaps in data for the Asia-Pacific region. The project seeks to reduce long-term costs from both donors and recipients. A stronger and healthier workforce and help developing communities become more economically viable.
Meanwhile, data can help reduce waste from poorly directed aid. The Australian aid programs of the future will deliver targeted health solutions based on real data — from women’s health to smoking and obesity. NGOs will benefit from the data DFAT pays to collect — the information is expected to be shared with collaborators and partners.
Another must watch project from innovationXchange is LAUNCH Food. In collaboration with USAID Global Development Labs, this health project will uncover, support and scale innovations dealing with food and nutrition.
“LAUNCH Food seeks to discover 10 food-related innovations that — when implemented — will reduce the prevalence of under- and overnutrition within the Indo-Pacific region over the next 10 years,” the spokesperson said. “For example, this initiative is challenging innovators to uncover new approaches to marketing healthier food options and encouraging consumers to make choices which have longer-term health benefits.”
At the September launch of the program in New York, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called on innovators, entrepreneurs and anyone with ideas to contribute to the program. To turn these ideas into reality, $5 million is being put on the table.
“This will be an innovation challenge where we ask you around the world to give us your ideas,” Bishop said. “It will be a competitive tender and those winning ideas will be backed by seed funding, with mentoring, with incubator support so we can trial and develop these ideas and if they work we will roll them out across developing nations. If it works in the Pacific, we will roll it out further.”
Infant stunting is a result of malnutrition and can have long-term effects on children as they grow, including by making them more susceptible to chronic diseases and reducing IQs. In East Timor, nearly half of all children under 5 are stunted.
DFAT’s Hamutuk program is developing smarter approaches to collecting data for policy making.
“The program is developing an innovative mobile and online platform to speed up monitoring and evaluation, providing faster insights into interventions that are having the greatest impact,” the spokesperson explained.
Hamutuk is also researching behavior and behavioral triggers in East Timor that lead to poor nutrition. This psychological approach to health care is innovative and, if successful, could lead to similar programs implemented throughout the Asia-Pacific region targeted at affecting health outcomes through social change.
NGOs are expected to play an important role in delivering these health solutions as community facilitators and partners in the Australian aid program.
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