Sexual health and HIV: New reports highlight how research can make an impact
Sexual health and HIV: New reports highlight how research can make an impact<br />There are 7000 new HIV infections every day, 99% of maternal deaths happen in developing countries and access to reproductive health services is woefully inadequate. Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals is dependent on improved sexual and reproductive health. <br />Most researchers want to make a difference to the world around them. But even when robust, good quality evidence on how to improve sexual and reproductive health exists it doesn’t always make its way into policy and practice. Many academics and donors are concerned with the impact of research and investments in international development. The question of how to get research into policy and practice is a growing concern. <br /><ul><li>As part of the Sexual Health and HIV Evidence into Policy (SHHEP) project researchers and communications experts came together to share and analyse the strategies they used to influence policy. A Supplement of the journal Health Research Policy and Systems has been published which provides examples of this work from Africa (South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana) and Asia (Bangladesh and India).
In their foreword to the Supplement Prof Chris Whitty (Director Research and Evidence Division) and Dr. Sue Kinn (Head of Health Research) from the UK Department for International Development who funded the project comment, “The papers in this special supplement focus on lesson learning on getting research into policy and practice. They highlight the range of methodologies and approaches researchers and communication specialists have used in different contexts to try to ensure research does not simply gather dust on library shelves but feeds into and is relevant to policy and practice in different contexts...I hope that the innovative approaches and promising ways forward, presented in these papers, will inspire and motivate others.”
How an approach to safe sex which focuses on pleasure rather than disease and death can strengthen HIV prevention interventions.
How researchers working to improve the health of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV in Ghana formed a close relationship with Government health and social welfare departments.
Building trust between researchers, community members and policymakers in herpes simplex virus treatment trials in South Africa.
Assessing the impact of a new report ‘Reviewing Emergencies’ for Swaziland, which documented the impact of HIV on this small country.
Work to engage the media about sexual and reproductive health in Kenya where researchers worked with the popular soap opera Makutano Junction on story lines that tackled issues like rape and homosexuality.
How researchers in Bangladesh brought together journalists, public health workers and academics to discuss sexuality and rights issues with sexual minorities, for example gay men and lesbians.
An examination of the process through which the evidence related to HIV–HSV-2 interactions influenced policy at the international level and were then transferred to national level.
National policy development for cotrimoxazole prophylaxis in Malawi, Uganda and Zambia.
An examination of the Regional Network on AIDS, Livelihoods and Food security’s role in influencing.
How to design and implement communications strategies in multi-partner research programmes.</li></ul>What have we learned?<br />The articles in this supplement provide an analysis of engagement strategies across the spectrum of SRH and HIV/AIDS research. They illustrate the importance of:<br /><ul><li>Undertaking reflective assessments of the policy relevance of research evidence, its scope and limitations within a particular context and the ethical implications of communicating the research
Carrying out strategic scoping of opportunities and levers for influence through analysis of the policy context, actors and processes, including the political or cultural acceptability of research findings
Assessing the nature of the research evidence and consulting with other key actors on how best to frame it in ways that increase local decision makers’ receptivity
Keeping communications strategies flexible, innovative, jargon free and relevant to research institutions’ objectives to keep them effective
Being aware of the broad range of research impacts </li></ul>Why are the papers important?<br /><ul><li>“This supplement presents conceptual and empirical analyses of the research-policy interface from different contexts. It brings fresh theoretical and practical insights into the complexities of research engagement in the politicised, sensitive and challenging arena of sexual and reproductive health,” said Dr Sally Theobald, one of the editors of the Supplement.</li></ul>Editor Prof Standing commented, “These analyses highlight the very wide range of strategies that researchers can consider in order to influence key decision makers and the importance of understanding of, and long-term engagement with, diverse groups of stakeholders. They also demonstrate the value of careful documentation of these processes. There is no one-size-fits-all method but there are useful practical lessons from every success or failure.”<br />