International experts have written in this week's issue of PLoS Medicine that even though medical research from low-and middle-income countries has steadily risen in the last few decades, many countries still fail to have anything similar resembling a health research strategy.

In view of the approaching World Health Report, which addresses the need for health research, Martin McKee from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the UK, and his team pledge their case in terms of the significance of establishing national health research strategies to ensure a functional and thriving public health system. They stress that strengthening efforts in health research's capacity have, so far, focused on countries that already have an existing capacity, instead of on those countries that have next to no capacity.

The researches evaluated the health research capacity of countries, between 1996 and 2010, by measuring the number of medical research publications by researchers based in institutions in each country and discovered that when they used absolute numbers of scientific papers, that those with the fewest publications mainly consist of small islands and a few politically isolated countries.

When they analyzed the number of published papers per capita, however, they discovered that the former Soviet Union and Africa were amongst the countries with the lowest number of medical publications. Both of these regions have recently experienced conflict and a decreased life expectancy.

Stressing that donors should adapt a long-term view and consider the optimal approach to build health research capacity in places of virtual absence, they say:

"Notwithstanding the current global financial crisis, there is an argument to be made for leading donors to explore the scope for strategic investment in higher education in some countries that have so far been neglected."
The researchers conclude:

"Obvious emerging priorities are those countries of North Africa that are in the process of transitioning to democratic rule, and where research capacity has, so far, been very limited."

Written By Petra Rattue