Today, medical research and innovation are still often disconnected from medical practice, particularly in low-resources settings. This is evidenced by an important gap between scientific knowledge or technical innovation and their implementation in health centres, hospitals or communities.
Operational research plays a vital role in linking science and practice, says Paul Delaunois, Director General at MSF Luxembourg. It can directly impact on practices and guidelines to improve health programs, especially in low-and middle income countries.
The MSF operational research unit LuxOR (Luxembourg Operational Research) conducts operational studies in medical programs to directly improve access to care and quality of health services.
In 2000, Malawi had more than one million people living with HIV/AIDS, at least a hundred thousand people died every year, and there was no access to lifesaving antiretroviral drugs. Operational research conducted by MSF in Malawi showed precisely how it is possible to provide antiretroviral treatment in a standardized way for a half a million inhabitants. Today, more than 650.000 patients in Malawi receive antiretroviral, illustrates Dr. Rony Zachariah, LuxOR Coordinator.
This is the real role of operational research for health: show precise and feasible solutions to improve health programs.
The European Union invests fifty-three billions in support of medical research between 2013 and 2017, through the FP7, the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. Yet there is no device to support operational research, despite its promising results to help improve the lives of thousands of patients.
It is necessary to invest in operational research today, because patients cannot wait over ten years to benefit from medical solutions. A seminar entitled The role of operational research in low- and middle income countries was held at the European parliament on 4th March, including speakers from eleven institutions and organizations. On this occasion, the World Health Organization (WHO), MSF and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases (the Union) called for support from the European Union to existing operational research capacity-building programs.
Such a program is SORT IT- the Structured Operational Research Training Initiative. SORT IT was initiated by the WHO, and aims to improve public health systems through integrated research and training. MSF and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases provided the model of training for this training, which has been successfully organized worldwide.
Support to SORT IT from the European Union would lead to:
- Linking organizations that are trained in operational research and public health programs that can benefit from such research
- Develop skills through North-South and South-South partnerships
- Support development of SORT IT from a success program to a key global player
The 2013 annual report of the World Health Organization "Research for universal health coverage" recommends that all countries, including low-and middle income countries, have the possibility to conduct operational research within their national health systems, and that this research extends to NGOs and the public sector.
A survey conducted in 2013 by MSF LuxOR and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease shows that for 88 operational research publications conducted through the Union-MSF training course, 74 % of these studies had a direct impact on the directives or health practices.