Background: New international laws have been proposed for various health issues, including those related to alcohol, biomedical research, chronic diseases, counterfeit drugs, and obesity. However, international law might not always be an appropriate response to global health challenges. We assessed the costs and consequences of international health law and developed criteria for its just use.
Methods: We used legal, political economy, and ethical frameworks to identify implications of international health laws that are not always considered, especially situations in which risks of negative consequences were particularly great.
Findings: International laws can be blunt instruments with many costs and they can be coercive and paternalistic. Direct costs include many meetings, air travel, legal fees, and support for decision-making bodies and secretariats. Indirect costs include lost opportunities to allocate limited resources to other important issues. Since all laws have costs, international laws cannot be exempt from normal priority-setting processes without justification. We identified four criteria for the use of international law to address global health challenges. The problem that a new international law addresses should be (1) transnational and (2) long term, and legal instruments should be (3) cost effective and (4) justify coercion. To be cost effective, the best-available research should suggest that a new law would provide a better cost to benefit ratio compared with other options. To justify coercion, the proposed law should either address multilateral challenges that cannot practically be addressed by one country only, enable collective action when the costs of common benefits are impractical for any individual state to pursue alone, or support humanitarian principles that are universally held. Use of international health law to dictate poor countries' policies and priorities from afar, or when less costly instruments (eg, non-binding soft laws) might be as effective, is inappropriate.
Interpretation: Not every global health challenge should be addressed with international law. Countries should consider our criteria before adopting new international laws. All available international instruments should be assessed to establish which is best for addressing each global health challenge.
International institutions should be as equal as they claim to be, especially since many of them assert superordinate normative authority based on having egalitarian governance structures. However, when defining equality with respect to states’ real-world influence in determining substantive outcomes, it is evident that there is an equality-influence gap between the rhetoric of parity among states and the reality of international politics. This is problematic because it undermines trust in those international institutions that falsely claim to embody equality among states when empirically they do not. Focusing on the United Nations System, this paper identifies three main causes of this disproportional influence among states in global decision making: (a) external imbalances in political capital; (b) internal economic barriers; and (c) surreptitious influence through non-state actors, funding and training. Six pragmatic strategies are proposed for mitigating these inequalities: (1) building capacity for leadership in global advocacy; (2) supporting global networks owned by developing countries; (3) equalizing multi-party partnerships; (4) facilitating evidence-informed global decision making; (5) enhancing accountability and independent evaluation; and (6) encouraging further discussion on institutional reforms. Notwithstanding sovereign equality’s deep flaws, it is hoped that challenging the egalitarian presumptions of global decision making will encourage further debate on this issue among those who can act upon it.
The Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) are currently debating the substance and form of an international agreement to improve the financing and coordination of research and development (R&D) for health products that meet the needs of developing countries. In addition to considering the content of any possible legal or political agreement, Member States may find it helpful to reflect on the full range of implementation mechanisms available to bring any agreement into effect. These include mechanisms for states to make commitments, administer activities, manage financial contributions, make subsequent decisions, monitor each other's performance and promote compliance. States can make binding or non-binding commitments through conventions, contracts, declarations or institutional reforms. States can administer activities to implement their agreements through international organizations, sub-agencies, joint ventures or self-organizing processes. Finances can be managed through specialized multilateral funds, financial institutions, membership organizations or coordinated self-management. Decisions can be made through unanimity, consensus, equal voting, modified voting or delegation. Oversight can be provided by peer review, expert review, self-reports or civil society. Together, states should select their preferred options across categories of implementation mechanisms, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. The challenge lies in choosing the most effective combinations of mechanisms for supporting an international agreement (or set of agreements) that achieves collective aspirations in a way and at a cost that are both sustainable and acceptable to those involved. In making these decisions, WHO's Member States can benefit from years of experience with these different mechanisms in health and its related sectors.
Adjudicative tribunals are an integral part of health system governance, yet their real-world impact remains largely unknown. Most assessments focus on internal accountability and use anecdotal methodologies; few, studies if any, empirically evaluate their external impact and use these data to test effectiveness, track performance, inform service improvements and ultimately strengthen health systems. Given that such assessments would yield important benefits and have been conducted successfully in similar settings (e.g. specialist courts), their absence is likely attributable to complexity in the health system, methodological difficulties and the legal environment within which tribunals operate. We suggest practical steps for potential evaluators to conduct empirical impact evaluations along with an evaluation matrix template featuring possible target outcomes and corresponding surrogate endpoints, performance indicators and empirical methodologies. Several system-level strategies for supporting such assessments have also been suggested for academics, health system institutions, health planners and research funders. Action is necessary to ensure that policymakers do not continue operating without evidence but can rather pursue data-driven strategies that are more likely to achieve their health system goals in a cost-effective way.
Background: Research evidence is not always being disseminated to healthcare providers who need it to inform their clinical practice. This can result in the provision of ineffective services and an inefficient use of resources, the implications of which might be felt particularly acutely in low- and middle-income countries. Malaria prevention is a particularly compelling domain to study evidence/practice gaps given the proven efficacy, cost-effectiveness and disappointing utilization of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs).
Methods: This study compares what is known about ITNs to the related knowledge and practices of healthcare providers in four low- and middle-income countries. A new questionnaire was developed, pilot tested, translated and administered to 497 healthcare providers in Ghana (140), Laos (136), Senegal (100) and Tanzania (121). Ten questions tested participants' knowledge and clinical practice related to malaria prevention. Additional questions addressed their individual characteristics, working context and research-related activities. Ordinal logistic regressions with knowledge and practices as the dependent variable were conducted in addition to descriptive statistics.
Results: The survey achieved a 75% response rate (372/497) across Ghana (107/140), Laos (136/136), Senegal (51/100) and Tanzania (78/121). Few participating healthcare providers correctly answered all five knowledge questions about ITNs (13%) or self-reported performing all five clinical practices according to established evidence (2%). Statistically significant factors associated with higher knowledge within each country included: 1) training in acquiring systematic reviews through the Cochrane Library (OR 2.48, 95% CI 1.30-4.73); and 2) ability to read and write English well or very well (OR 1.69, 95% CI 1.05-2.70). Statistically significant factors associated with better clinical practices within each country include: 1) reading scientific journals from their own country (OR 1.67, 95% CI 1.10-2.54); 2) working with researchers to improve their clinical practice or quality of working life (OR 1.44, 95% CI 1.04-1.98); 3) training on malaria prevention since their last degree (OR 1.68, 95% CI 1.17-2.39); and 4) easy access to the internet (OR 1.52, 95% CI 1.08-2.14).
Conclusions: Improving healthcare providers' knowledge and practices is an untapped opportunity for expanding ITN utilization and preventing malaria. This study points to several strategies that may help bridge the gap between what is known from research evidence and the knowledge and practices of healthcare providers. Training on acquiring systematic reviews and facilitating internet access may be particularly helpful.
Background: A questionnaire could assist researchers, policymakers, and healthcare providers to describe and monitor changes in efforts to bridge the gaps among research, policy and practice. No questionnaire focused on researchers' engagement in bridging activities related to high-priority topics (or the potential correlates of their engagement) has been developed and tested in a range of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Methods: Country teams from ten LMICs (China, Ghana, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos, Mexico, Pakistan, Senegal, and Tanzania) participated in the development and testing of a questionnaire. To assess reliability we calculated the internal consistency of items within each of the ten conceptual domains related to bridging activities (specifically Cronbach's alpha). To assess face and content validity we convened several teleconferences and a workshop. To assess construct validity we calculated the correlation between scales and counts (i.e., criterion measures) for the three countries that employed both and we calculated the correlation between different but theoretically related (i.e., convergent) measures for all countries.
Results: Internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha) for sets of related items was very high, ranging from 0.89 (0.86-0.91) to 0.96 (0.95-0.97), suggesting some item redundancy. Both face and content validity were determined to be high. Assessments of construct validity using criterion-related measures showed statistically significant associations for related measures (with gammas ranging from 0.36 to 0.73). Assessments using convergent measures also showed significant associations (with gammas ranging from 0.30 to 0.50).
Conclusions: While no direct comparison can be made to a comparable questionnaire, our findings do suggest a number of strengths of the questionnaire but also the need to reduce item redundancy and to test its capacity to monitor changes over time.
Background: The reliability and validity of instruments used to survey health-care providers' views about and experiences with research evidence have seldom been examined.
Methods: Country teams from ten low- and middle-income countries (China, Ghana, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos, Mexico, Pakistan, Senegal and Tanzania) participated in the development, translation, pilot-testing and administration of a questionnaire designed to measure health-care providers' views and activities related to improving their clinical practice and their awareness of, access to and use of research evidence, as well as changes in their clinical practice that they attribute to particular sources of research evidence that they have used. We use internal consistency as a measure of the questionnaire's reliability and, whenever possible, we use explanatory factor analyses to assess the degree to which questions that pertain to a single domain actually address common themes. We assess the questionnaire's face validity and content validity and, to a lesser extent, we also explore its criterion validity.
Results: The questionnaire has high internal consistency, with Cronbach's alphas between 0.7 and 0.9 for 16 of 20 domains and sub-domains (identified by factor analyses). Cronbach's alphas are greater than 0.9 for two domains, suggesting some item redundancy. Pre- and post-field work assessments indicate the questionnaire has good face validity and content validity. Our limited assessment of criterion validity shows weak but statistically significant associations between the general influence of research evidence among providers and more specific measures of providers' change in approach to preventing or treating a clinical condition.
Conclusion: Our analysis points to a number of strengths of the questionnaire - high internal consistency (reliability) and good face and content validity - but also to areas where it can be shortened without losing important conceptual domains.
Background: Many international statements have urged researchers, policy-makers and health care providers to collaborate in efforts to bridge the gaps between research, policy and practice in low- and middle-income countries. We surveyed researchers in 10 countries about their involvement in such efforts.
Methods: We surveyed 308 researchers who conducted research on one of four clinical areas relevant to the Millennium Development Goals (prevention of malaria, care of women seeking contraception, care of children with diarrhea and care of patients with tuberculosis) in each of 10 low- and middle-income countries (China, Ghana, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos, Mexico, Pakistan, Senegal and Tanzania). We focused on their engagement in three promising bridging activities and examined system-level, organizational and individual correlates of these activities.
Results: Less than half of the researchers surveyed reported that they engaged in one or more of the three promising bridging activities: 27% provided systematic reviews of the research literature to their target audiences, 40% provided access to a searchable database of research products on their topic, and 43% established or maintained long-term partnerships related to their topic with representatives of the target audience. Three factors emerged as statistically significant predictors of respondents’ engagement in these activities: the existence of structures and processes to link researchers and their target audiences predicted both the provision of access to a database (odds ratio [OR] 2.62, 95% CI 1.30–5.27) and the establishment or maintenance of partnerships (OR 2.65, 95% CI 1.25–5.64); stability in their contacts predicted the provision of systematic reviews (OR 2.88, 95% CI 1.35–6.13); and having managers and public (government) policy-makers among their target audiences predicted the provision of both systematic reviews (OR 4.57, 95% CI 1.78–11.72) and access to a database (OR 2.55, 95% CI 1.20–5.43).
Interpretation: Our findings suggest potential areas for improvement in light of the bridging strategies targeted at health care providers that have been found to be effective in some contexts and the factors that appear to increase the prospects for using research in policy-making.
Global health is a growing concern because it its potential to affect the peace, security and prosperity of individuals worldwide. Global health diplomacy can mitigate this concern by integrating leadership across health and foreign policy spheres. Given the limited resources available for global health initiatives, it is important to show that investment in this area can bring tangible results for participants. In the case study of health diplomacy in Canada, several comparative advantages are identified including a strong international reputation, technical expertise and membership in a variety of multilateral organizations. However, there is still room for Canada to improve elements of its health diplomacy, such as by prioritizing health in foreign policy, promoting collaboration across government departments, engaging with key partners and stakeholders.
Background: Gaps continue to exist between research-based evidence and clinical practice. We surveyed health care providers in 10 low- and middle-income countries about their use of research-based evidence and examined factors that may facilitate or impede such use.
Methods: We surveyed 1499 health care providers practising in one of four areas relevant to the Millennium Development Goals (prevention of malaria, care of women seeking contraception, care of children with diarrhea and care of patients with tuberculosis) in each of China, Ghana, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos, Mexico, Pakistan, Senegal and Tanzania.
Results: The proportion of respondents who reported that research was likely to change their clinical practice if performed and published in their own country (84.6% and 86.0% respectively) was higher than the proportion who reported the same about research and publications from their region (66.4% and 63.1%) or from high-income countries (55.8% and 55.5%). Respondents who were most likely to report that the use of research-based evidence led to changes in their practice included those who reported using clinical practice guidelines in paper format (odds ratio [OR] 1.54, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.03-2.28), using scientific journals from their own country in paper format (OR 1.70, 95% CI 1.26-2.28), viewing the quality of research performed in their country as above average or excellent (OR 1.93, 95% CI 1.16-3.22); trusting systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials (OR 1.59, 95% CI 1.08-2.35); and having easy access to the Internet (OR 1.90, 95% CI 1.19-3.02).
Interpretation: Locally conducted or published research has played an important role in changing the professional practice of health care providers surveyed in low- and middle-income countries. Increased investments in local research, or at least in locally adapted publications of research-based evidence from other settings, are therefore needed. Although access to the Internet was viewed as a significant factor in whether research-based evidence led to concrete changes in practice, few respondents reported having easy access to the Internet. Therefore, efforts to improve Internet access in clinical settings need to be accelerated.
Background: Attention to global health security governance is more important now than ever before. Scientists predict that a possible influenza pandemic could affect 1.5 billion people, cause up to 150 million deaths and leave US$3 trillion in economic damages. A public health emergency in one country is now only hours away from affecting many others.
Methods: Using regime analysis from political science, the principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures by which states govern health security are examined in the historical context of their punctuated evolution. This methodology illuminates the catalytic agents of change, distributional consequences and possible future orders that can help to better inform progress in this area.
Findings: Four periods of global health security governance are identified. The first is characterized by unilateral quarantine regulations (1377-1851), the second by multiple sanitary conferences (1851-92), the third by several international sanitary conventions and international health organizations (1892-1946) and the fourth by the hegemonic leadership of the World Health Organization (1946-????). This final regime, like others before it, is challenged by globalization (e.g. limitations of the new International Health Regulations), changing diplomacy (e.g. proliferation of global health security organizations), new tools (e.g. global health law, human rights and health diplomacy) and shock-activated vulnerabilities (e.g. bioterrorism and avian/swine influenza). This understanding, in turn, allows us to appreciate the impact of this evolving regime on class, race and gender, as well as to consider four possible future configurations of power, including greater authority for the World Health Organization, a concert of powers, developing countries and civil society organizations.
Conclusions: This regime analysis allows us to understand the evolution, etiology and eventualities of the global health security regime, which is essential for national and international health policymakers, practitioners and academics to know where and how to act effectively in preparation for tomorrow's challenges.
Background: Little is known about the extent to which research evidence informs the development of recommendations by international organizations.
Methods: We identified specific World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank recommendations on five topics (contracting, healthcare financing, health human resources, tuberculosis control and tobacco control), catalogued the related systematic reviews and assessed the recommendations to determine their consistency with the systematic reviews that were available at the time of their formulation.
Findings: Only two of the eight publications examined were found to cite systematic reviews, and only five of 14 WHO and two of seven World Bank recommendations were consistent with both the direction and nature of effect claims from systematic reviews. Ten of 14 WHO and five of seven World Bank recommendations were consistent with the direction of effect claims only.
Conclusion: WHO and the World Bank - working with donor agencies and national governments - can improve their use of (or at least, their reporting about their use of) research evidence. Decision-makers and clinicians should critically evaluate the quality and local applicability of recommendations from any source, including international organizations, prior to their implementation.