There are 7000 new HIV infections every day, 99 per cent of maternal deaths happen in developing countries and access to sexual and reproductive health services is woefully inadequate. Evidence can help to improve policies and health services but too often it doesn’t get used. A special supplement of the journal Health Research Policy and Systems provides crucial lessons on translating research into policy and practice for a lasting impact.
The supplement has been produced by the Sexual Health and HIV Evidence into Policy (SHHEP) initiative, which Evidence for Action was part of. The Supplement brings together the experiences of academics and communications professionals from Africa (South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ghana) and Asia (Bangladesh and India) to explore how they have influenced decision makers. Whilst each paper is context and issue specific the lessons learned are relevant for researchers, practitioners, donors and policy makers working elsewhere and on topics other than health.
“Research should play a crucial role in improving health but it doesn’t always have the impact that it should. Communicating research findings is not about spin - it is about getting the evidence into the hands of people who need it and helping them to put it into practice. The Supplement gives guidance on how to do that. The issues that are important here - sex, access to health care and violence - are often highly political, and approaches to communicating research need to take this into account,” said Dr Sally Theobald, one of the editors from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
Topics covered by the papers include:
- How an approach to safe sex which focuses on pleasure rather than disease and death can strengthen HIV prevention interventions.
- How researchers working to improve the health of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV in Ghana formed a close relationship with Government health and social welfare departments.
- Building trust between researchers, community members and policymakers in herpes simplex virus treatment trials for HIV prevention in South Africa.
- Assessing the impact of a new report ‘Reviewing Emergencies’ for Swaziland, which documented the impact of HIV on this small country.
- Work to engage the media about sexual and reproductive health in Kenya where researchers worked with the popular soap opera Makutano Junction on story lines that tackled issues like rape and homosexuality.
- How researchers in Bangladesh brought together journalists, public health workers and academics to discuss sexuality and rights issues with sexual minorities, for example gay men and lesbians.
- An examination of the process through which the evidence related to HIV–HSV-2 interactions influenced policy at the international level and was then transferred to national level in Ghana.
- National policy development for cotrimoxazole prophylaxis in Malawi, Uganda and Zambia.
- An examination of the Regional Network on AIDS, Livelihoods and Food security’s role in influencing.
- How to design and implement communications strategies in multi-partner research programmes.
In their foreword to the Supplement Professor Chris Whitty (Director Research and Evidence Division) and Dr. Sue Kinn (Head of Health Research) from the UK Department for International Development comment, “The papers in this special supplement focus on lesson learning on getting research into policy and practice. They highlight the range of methodologies and approaches researchers and communication specialists have used in different contexts to try to ensure research does not simply gather dust on library shelves but feeds into and is relevant to policy and practice in different contexts. I hope that the innovative approaches and promising ways forward, presented in these papers, will inspire and motivate others.”
The supplement is free to access and download.