Should researchers be trained on health politics?

At the venue of the ongoing training on Protection of human research participants and responsible conduct of research organized by the National Health Research Ethics Committee for 15 researchers of the MGIC, Abuja, Professor Kola Oyedeji of the University of Lagos identified the need for researchers to be trained on health politics.

Professor Oyedeji identified that one of the reasons for this assertion is that the implementation of research findings needs extensive political engagement as some of the research findings do not appeal to policy makers and politicians. Researchers need to learn how to translate these research findings in ways that makes sense for use by politicians and policy makers.

This implies that researchers also have to learn the language of politicians to enable them translate research findings for use for the purpose of benefiting researched communities.

Secondly, political terms and tenures have implications for research funding and research implementation timelines. Nationally commissioned studies are often required to be implemented during the tenure of political officers so that they can report positive research findings as part of the deliverables of their governance.

This is very clear with the events that have happened with the cut back of research funding in the United States during the Trump administration. In Nigeria, top PEPFAR funded research institutions are equally being pressured to complete the planned HIV Indicator survey, proposed to be implemented over a 3 year period, by 2018 so that the results of the survey can be announced before the elections in 2019. It is anticipated that the survey will show that the HIV prevalence and incidence has dropped significantly in Nigeria.

Participants at the 3-day training (16th – 18th January 2018) organized by the Bioethics Society of Nigeria which held at the training room of the MGIC Nigeria office, identified with the need for extensive engagement of stakeholders through the planning, implementation and dissemination phases of research.

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They noted this has been the norm of their research practice as most often, stakeholders engaged in discussions about their research protocols often give inputs to their research protocols prior to protocol submission for ethics approval.

Mr Godwin Brooks of the Federal Ministry of Health shared with participants the implications of researchers’ non-engagement of stakeholders, including policy makers at the time of the research design through to its implementation. Often, when policy makers are invited to listen to research results, the risk is that policy makers do not adopt the research findings because they query the methodology, query the research findings and do not identify with the research result.

While appreciating the need for stakeholder engagement at the research conceptualization stage, participants identified that this may be extremely challenging for international research many other international partners are engaged with. Some of their protocols had been designed prior to their engagement as Southern partners. They are also often under pressure from the Northern partners to deliver results within specified timelines.

Professor Oyedeji noted that things can change. Things need to change if we want to see improvement in the health care systems in Nigeria. Community members are becoming more research literate, and will become more demanding for accountability from researchers as the years roll bye.

Researchers need to become proactive in their relationships with stakeholders. One of the areas change needs to happen is their active engagement of stakeholders with research design and implementation.

As trained Health Politicians, researchers will be able to negotiate the political landmines, ensure the public benefits from the research outcomes, and facilitate political will for continued investment in research.

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About the Author
Philomena  Ngozi Christopher-Oji was born to the family of the late Michael and Cecilia Ojeogwu of Ubulu-Uku, in Aniocha South Local Government Area, Delta State. She had her primary and secondary education in Nwanoli and Ezemu Girls College, in Ubulu-Uku, before she proceeded to the Delta State University, Abraka, where she studied English and Literary Studies.

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