Saturday, June 22, 2024

Global Health Research Revamped: NIHR’s New Funding Model Empowers LMIC Researchers to Lead Initiatives

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Global health research is the focus of a revamped portfolio of funding opportunities introduced by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), as detailed in a recent report. This marks a significant shift towards greater inclusivity and leadership by researchers in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). For the first time, all global health research projects can be led by LMIC researchers, a move that responds to calls for increased trust and leadership by those who are intimately familiar with the health challenges in their communities.

This initiative aims to enhance the impact of NIHR projects by leveraging local knowledge and expertise, recognizing that those who are closest to the health challenges often have the most pertinent insights and solutions. By empowering researchers in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to lead projects, the NIHR seeks to ensure that research is not only relevant but also sustainable and culturally appropriate.

Professor Kara Hanson, Director of Global Health Programmes at NIHR, emphasized the significance of this strategic shift: “The NIHR is working hard to ‘shift the center of gravity’ and reduce barriers between LMIC researchers and UK international development funding. This means actively dismantling the traditional hierarchies that have often placed LMIC researchers in secondary roles, despite their profound understanding of local health landscapes. With this new, refreshed portfolio of programs, we want to create a world where researchers and institutions in low and middle-income countries can plan and apply to appropriate opportunities, and take on leadership positions in funded international research partnerships.”

Global Health Research Equity: NIHR Empowers LMIC Researchers with New Funding Model

Professor Hanson elaborated on the transformative potential of this approach: “Historically, the flow of international development funding has often been top-down, with significant control and decision-making power residing in high-income countries. This has sometimes led to research agendas that do not fully align with the most pressing health needs of LMIC populations. By shifting the center of gravity, we are not merely decentralizing funding but also ensuring that the research priorities are driven by those who are directly impacted by health issues. This will lead to more relevant research outcomes and greater buy-in from local communities and stakeholders.”

Moreover, this initiative reflects a broader commitment to equity in global health research. “True partnership means equity,” Professor Hanson continued. “It means recognizing the expertise and leadership potential within LMICs and providing the necessary resources and support to harness that potential. This approach will facilitate the development of robust, locally-driven research infrastructures that can address current health challenges and anticipate future ones.”

The refreshed portfolio includes regular, predictable funding calls, which are designed to help researchers in LMICs better plan and prepare their applications. This structure is particularly important for institutions in LMICs, which may have fewer resources to navigate complex funding landscapes. “By establishing a clear and regular schedule of funding opportunities, we are providing researchers with the predictability they need to plan their research projects effectively,” Professor Hanson explained. “This will enable them to build strong, competitive proposals that are well-aligned with both local and global health priorities.”

Health Research

Global Health Research: NIHR Empowers LMIC Researchers and Builds Long-Term Capacity

Professor Hanson also highlighted the potential for this initiative to foster long-term capacity building within LMICs. “When researchers in LMICs lead projects, they gain invaluable experience in project management, international collaboration, and advanced research methodologies. This builds local capacity and expertise, which is crucial for the sustainability of health improvements. Over time, these researchers can become mentors and leaders within their own countries, further strengthening the research ecosystem.”

In addition to funding, the NIHR is committed to providing comprehensive support to LMIC researchers through capacity-building initiatives and training programs. “We recognize that financial resources alone are not enough,” said Professor Hanson. “Researchers need access to training, mentorship, and opportunities for professional development. By investing in these areas, we aim to create a supportive environment that enables LMIC researchers to thrive and lead innovative health research.”

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In conclusion, the NIHR’s new initiative is a significant step towards more equitable and effective global health research. By empowering LMIC researchers to lead projects and providing structured, predictable funding opportunities, the NIHR is fostering a more inclusive research landscape that values local knowledge and expertise. This approach not only enhances the relevance and impact of research but also contributes to the long-term sustainability of health improvements in LMICs. Professor Hanson’s vision of a world where LMIC researchers can take on leadership positions in international research partnerships is becoming a reality, paving the way for a more equitable and collaborative global health research environment.

NIHR Streamlines Health Research Funding to Empower LMIC Researchers and Promote Equitable Partnerships

The NIHR Global Health Research (GHR) portfolio’s new streamlined funding offer features a clear, regular, and predictable frequency of calls. This structure is designed to simplify the process for global health researchers to find suitable funding opportunities and plan strong applications. This predictability will contribute to the global body of knowledge on effective health interventions in LMICs.

A key component of the GHR portfolio is the facilitation of equitable partnerships and inclusion. In a groundbreaking move, all GHR-funded research projects can now be led or co-led by LMIC researchers. Smaller awards, which involve a single lead institution, must be led by an LMIC institute. More complex proposals, requiring joint leadership, can be led by either two LMIC institutes or a combination of one LMIC institute and one UK institute. Importantly, UK co-leads are no longer mandatory in any GHR program, making NIHR funding more accessible to LMIC researchers.

To further promote inclusion, the NIHR has introduced the Global Health Research Development Awards. These awards aim to increase the competitiveness of global health research applications led by researchers in countries eligible for Official Development Assistance (ODA).

The NIHR is also launching two new programs:

  • Global Health Research – Researcher-led (GHR Researcher-led): This program will support open calls for research aimed at improving health outcomes for vulnerable populations in LMICs. The first funding opportunity for this program opens on July 17, 2024, and will run annually.
  • Global Health Research – Health Policy and Systems (GHR HPS): This program will fund themed calls focused on improving the understanding and effectiveness of health systems in LMICs. The first funding call for GHR HPS will open in February 2025, also running annually.

NIHR’s New Funding Model Advances Health Research Equity and Global Partnerships

Both programs incorporate a tiered funding model to support a wide range of research proposals, from broad, ambitious projects to early-stage research with a narrower focus. These new programs will complement existing GHR programs and fellowships, which similarly operate on an annual cycle.

The NIHR’s Research on Innovations for Global Health Transformation (RIGHT) program has been renamed to Research on Interventions for Global Health Transformation. This change reflects the program’s focus on identifying and testing interventions to address high-burden, under-researched health problems. The eighth RIGHT call will be launched on July 17, 2024, targeting research to address the global burden of unintentional injuries and accidents. This includes but is not limited to, falls, drowning, burns, poisoning, environmental heat and cold exposure, and road traffic accidents.

The NIHR’s new funding model and program portfolio represent a significant step forward in promoting equitable global health research partnerships. By empowering LMIC researchers to lead projects and providing structured, predictable funding opportunities, the NIHR aims to foster more impactful and locally relevant health research. These initiatives not only enhance the inclusivity of global health research but also strengthen the global health research ecosystem by building on local expertise and addressing pressing health challenges in LMICs.


Resource: The National Institute for Health Research, May 17, 2024

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