Research translation to inform national health policies: learning from multiple perspectives in Uganda
Research and evidence can have an impact on policy and practice, resulting in positive outcomes. However, research translation is a complex, dynamic and non-linear process. Although universities in Africa play a major role in generating research evidence, their strategic approaches to influence health policies and decision making are weak. This study was conducted with the aim of understanding the process of translating research into policy in order to guide the strategic direction of Makerere University College of Health Sciences (MakCHS) and similar institutions in their quest to influence health outcomes nationally and globally.
A case study approach using 30 in-depth interviews with stakeholders involved in two HIV prevention research project was purposively selected. The study sought to analyze the research-to-policy discourses for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and safe male circumcision (SMC). The analysis sought to identify entry points, strengths and challenges for research-to-policy processes by interviewing three major groups of stakeholders in Uganda – researchers (8), policy makers (12) and media practitioners (12).
Among the factors that facilitated PMTCT policy uptake and continued implementation were: shared platforms for learning and decision making among stakeholders, implementation pilots to assess feasibility of intervention, the emerging of agencies to undertake operations research and the high visibility of policy benefits to child survival. In contrast, SMC policy processes were stalled for over two years after the findings of the Uganda study was made public. Among other factors, policy makers demanded additional research to assess implementation feasibility of SMC within ordinary health system context. High level leaders also publicly contested the SMC evidence and the underlying values and messages – a situation that reduced the coalition of policy champions.
This study shows that effective translation of PMTCT and SMC research results demanded a “360 degree” approach to assembling additional evidence to inform the implementation feasibility for these two HIV prevention interventions. MakCHS and similar institutions should prioritize implementation research to guide the policy processes about the feasibility of implementing new and effective innovations (e.g. PMTCT or SMC) at a large scale in contexts that may be different from the research environments.