The Thirty-fourth Session of WHO South-East Asia Advisory Committee on Health Research

14–15 December 2015, New Delhi, India

Opening Remarks by Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia

Distinguished members of the Advisory Committee on Health Research,

Distinguished special invitees,

Honourable guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning and welcome to SEARO.

On behalf of WHO, I warmly welcome you to the 34th session of the South-East Asia Advisory Committee on Health Research. I sincerely thank all ACHR members and special invitees and others for sparing their valuable time to attend this meeting.

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

Research remains one of the 6 core functions of WHO. It includes shaping the research agenda and stimulating the generation, translation and dissemination of public health knowledge. Health research is critical to improve the quality of care and health outcomes, and helps find appropriate solutions to everyday challenges in the health-care settings.

Before I venture any further, let me first dwell on the Advisory Committee on Health Research and the important role it plays in guiding global and regional health research activities.

The ACHR is an advisory body to the Regional Director, and has a consultative mandate to support the World Health Organization in carrying out its constitutional role of promoting and coordinating research related to international health work, in cooperation with external institutions pursuing common goals and with the scientific community in general. The ACHR helps narrow the gap between researchers and policy-makers in their respective countries. The WHO South-East Asia Advisory Committee on Medical Research, or ACMR was established in 1976, and renamed SEA ACHR in 1987 with the word “medical” replaced with the word “Health”.

The SEA ACHR has contributed towards highlighting the research needs in the Region as per changing situations and needs. I would like to briefly highlight some recent key outcomes of deliberations of the ACHR to give you an insight on the workings of this advisory committee.

  • The 25th ACHR in 2000 recommended the Regional Director to review and update the terms of reference, membership and methods of work of the newly reconstituted SEA-ACHR.
  • The 30th ACHR in 2007 recommended that an interactive forum for ACHR members be established and regional advisers appointed in SEARO to facilitate and exchange views on health research in-between ACHR sessions. This aimed to help sustain interest and generate ideas and action in health research more regularly and effectively.
  • The 31st ACHR in 2009 recommended that a Regional Strategy for Research for Health be developed.
  • The 32nd ACHR in 2011 prepared and considered a draft of the Regional Strategy in which five priority issues and five strategic directions were identified for the purpose of the Regional Strategy.
  • The 33rd ACHR in 2013 deliberated on thematic areas, including capacity-building, and more specifically for smaller Member States.
  • In October 2014, an intercountry meeting on strengthening Regional framework and developing a research action plan was held. This meeting was conducted in response to the 33rd ACHR meeting. At that meeting it was observed that even with agreement on “health research priorities”, the best way to finance research and development in priority areas to produce public goods for improving health is often not clear.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Recommendations and follow-up actions over the past year reveal that there is continuity and follow-up between successive ACHR meetings. The contribution of the ACHR over the years has been unquestionably valuable. However, much more needs to be done to get optimal results from heath research in a complex region such as South-East Asia where the challenges are enormous. This is accentuated by the 10/90 gap, wherein 10 per cent of the resources for research are available in parts of the world where 90% of the health problems persist. It is estimated that less than 3% of the global funding for researches go to developing countries and only 27% of all the researchers in the world are in developing countries. There are a number of other challenges to manage health research in South-East Asia.

These include:

  • Weak health systems to support health research in some countries.
  • Absence of clear national policy on health research in most cases.
  • Weak coordination of health research activities at both national and institutional levels.
  • General weakness in the management of research information and its wide dissemination and use of results.
  • Lack of capacity and facilities relating to laboratory, literature and library services and lack of modern tools for data processing and management.
  • Lack of incentives to motivate and encourage researchers to improve their competencies.
  • Difficulty in mobilizing funds to finance health research.

Despite this, there have been success stories of WHO research work conducted with advice from SEA ACHR. Areas of such research include chronic liver disease, treatment of snake bite, chronic respiratory infections, and dengue vaccine. This list looks thin and we need to do more.

We are in an era when success can only be achieved through innovations and ACHR should advice on ways of integrating innovation as a part of SEARO’s core business. This is also the era of an enhanced space for SEARO Member States on the global map of health technology. I have promised to my Member States that this Region shall forge ahead. This requires strong capacity-building in all countries including areas of implementation research that can address the barriers to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and the time bound flagship targets that I am committed to. We need your advice to help us steer forward to address these issues.

One of the changes I have proposed to my staff to help ACHR function more efficiently is that ACHR can make recommendations through virtual meetings and also hold meetings of task forces. You may please suggest how we can work more dynamically as well as with other global partners and with headquarters. We also have a session on resource mobilization, collective engagement, and challenges related to inequity in research and the means to address that.

We have among our ACHR members and our special invitees a galaxy of experts from different areas of specialization and from different Member States. We would like you to share your expertise in identifying areas where WHO SEARO can add value to. This is an era of boundless new opportunities with a new IT environment, unprecedented economic development of Member States, and expanding funding opportunities. We need to capitalize on these advantages. I look forward to the deliberations. Please accept my cordial welcome to you all.

Thank you.