A growing resource

Health Research Web (HRWeb)
is a web-based, interactive platform aimed at improving health, equity and development through research. HRWeb is particularly aimed at research focusing on improving health in low and middle income countries and populations, but it will be useful to high income countries as well.
Health Research Web is a web-based information and management platform and, as a means to that end, also an online community of people interested in building a high-quality information and management system in a spirit of mutual respect and in pursuit of 'health for all' by enabling all who work for health, equity and development through research to find, use and share information needed to achieve their goals. Our inspiration came from a research management information system developed for and with the directorate of Science and Technology - DECIT of the Science, Technology and Strategic Inputs of the Ministry of Health in Brazil.

HRWeb is a growing source of information on the structure, organisation, financing and prioritisation of research for health in and for low and middle income countries. It is not primarily a research database – these can be found elsewhere. Instead, HRWeb's unique contributions are that:
a)     it organises global information on research for health from the point of view of low and middle income countries;
b)     it captures research system information – enabling countries and institutions to govern and manage health research as an essential aspect of increasing health, equity and development;
c)      it makes this domain interactive, open to the public – to everyone – not just to research institutions, donors or industry; and
d)     it creates a platform that can be used for internal institutional management or for sharing institutional, national or regional data with the world.
Taken together, these contributions aim to provide governments and institutions, in low and middle income countries in particular, with key information they need to optimize the potential of research to improve health and development. It will also increase visibility and accountability of all those engaged in research for health, and provides a source of information to find collaborators or to support capacity building. 

Why health research – or – 'research for health'?
Health research is often seen as 'medical' research conducted by white-coated, often grey-haired, experts in expensive laboratories researching drugs for specific diseases. Yet there is so much more to research – to what research can do for health and development. In fact, research is essential not just for increasing understanding, but also for converting knowledge into products and technologies, for making sure that the latter reach the people who need them at the time they need them, for evaluating if everyone who needs these products and technologies has access to them, and to follow up if the health improvements are forthcoming. Research on the health system itself is key to improving its performance in terms of quality, access and responsiveness.

Yet there is even more to research – changing it from 'health research' to 'research for health.' Improving road safety, for example, or understanding how to reduce occupational disease. Demonstrating that simple nutritional interventions can have major impacts on the health of an entire population. Or focusing on social, economic and political causes of disease can help us improve our understanding of improving health and health equity. And, even further, research is not only an activity – it is a state of mind – one in which evidence becomes key to policy making, to the behaviour of individuals and groups, and to increasing accountability of those conducting and governing research to all of us. That is what we call 'research for health'. If you want to know more, please click here.
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Why Health Research Web?
In summary, then, research is an essential aspect of health and development. Where some focus on promotion of agriculture, others on increasing education, and yet others on large infrastructure development, COHRED has focused since 1993 on developing tools, methods and approaches that enable low and middle income countries to take charge of research for health conducted in and for their countries. This is not meant as 'restrictive control' but rather as the ability of countries to identify problems that can be addressed through research for health – and then – to commission, partner, conduct and use research, even if done elsewhere, for the benefit of health, health equity and socio-economic development of their population.
For this purpose, COHRED created HRWeb in 2006 – to provide not just information, but to create an interactive platform for use by countries, institutions and individuals interested in achieving health equity globally through research, and to stimulate the growth of a global community interested in contributing to this goal.
Although health research is widely seen as key to achieving national and international health goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for example, there is no source of information on research for health that is organised from the perspective of low and middle income countries – which is exactly where change needs to take place to achieve such goals in a sustainable manner. There are many health research related resources including the well-known publication databases, clinical trial registries, websites of research sponsoring agencies and of donors supporting research, and of individual research organisations and institutions. There is, however, no platform where this information is re-organised in a manner that puts 'countries' (i.e. not only governments, but also research and academic institutions, non-governmental and civil society organisations, external collaborators, and others) in the governance seat. And that is where HRWeb comes in.

Health Research Web is organised to provide integrated information on research for health at country and regional levels. Its organising principle is national health research systems. It is directed at everyone who has an interest in increasing the impact of research on health, equity and development in low and middle income countries. It aims to strengthen national health research capability to produce research that is excellent and relevant. It is not only a 'self-updating' information base, but also a web-based software platform that can be used in private or be shared with the world, and a community of people interested in helping to develop the full potential of research as a way to health, equity and development everywhere.    
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Health Research Web will be useful to:  
  • governments – to improve the governance, leadership, management, financing, organisation, capacity and impact of research for health in their own countries – to create an environment that is conducive to excellent, relevant and ethical research addressing priority health problems; 
  • research institutions – to address more directly the health and health system needs of low and middle income countries, and to position themselves for research partnerships with other institutions and research sponsors; research institutions in low and middle income countries can use HRWeb to profile themselves; research institutions in high income countries seeking to make a difference in global health can find partners; 
  • academic institutions – to better support the development of 'human resources for health research' in the countries where they operate and to attune their educational and research programmes to address health priorities; and as a source of information and communication for students and staff; 
  • research sponsors and donors – to plan and evaluate their support for research or research capacity building better in line with health research priorities of countries; to find partners with whom to team up so that research may not be simply a 'project' but can become an intervention for sustainable research capacity development; and to simply be able to get information on the support they provide to the people in countries who need to know this; 
  • industry – to understand national legislation and regulation for health research and have easier access to potential research partners; and to show how it is addressing key concerns of low and middle income countries;
  • civil society organisations (CSOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – to help focus research for health on areas of greatest need; to disseminate results that can make a difference; to advocate for research on national priorities and health equity; and to hold all involved in research for health accountable; 
  • researchers – to find partners, priorities and focus for their research projects and to help maximize impact on health and health research capacity in low and middle income countries; to find grant information specific to individual countries; to create a communication network of people interested in similar topics or geographical areas; 
  • international organisations – to be able to tap into a global, people-driven, information platform that is complementary to routine data collections; to link efforts at the global level to those at the national level; and to find ways to increase the visibility of their own work at the national level;
  • media, health and science writers – to better understand the context in which research for health happens, and how this can be changed to increase the relevance of health research to solve health problems in low and middle income countries and populations; 
  • informed citizens – in the 'north' and the 'south' – to enable them to hold their government agencies, researchers and research institutions and sponsoring agencies to account; to influence bilateral and multi-lateral aid with better information about national priorities, needs, and capacities; to engage with health research directly;
  • the 'diaspora' – nationals of low and middle income countries living and working outside their country of origin – but often very interested in contributing to the health and welfare of their homeland. HRWeb provides a way to do this – in the field of research for health, and to find colleagues and countrymen & women with similar interests;
  • 'expatriates' – nationals of countries that provide research support to low and middle income countries, who have returned home but remain moved by and want to keep contributing to research in the countries in which they worked;
  • and people in low and middle income countries and populations themselves – to use research results; to influence national and even global research agendas to address their own health problems; and to help shape new ways of using research to support health, equity and socio-economic development.          
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Health Research Web – ongoing improvements
HRWeb started in 2006 as a static database of information on national research policies and priorities. Now, in 2009, it has been upgraded to an interactive, 'wiki-type' information base where knowledge is contributed from around the globe; it is also a research information management system – that can be used by institutions, governments, regional and international organisations. It will soon provide a networking functionality to create communities interested in research in specific countries or on specific topics in these countries. In 2010, HRWeb “3.0” will enable cross-country comparisons and analyses, including topics researched, funds given, priorities addressed, findings implemented, and more. To get this started, HRWeb “2.0” needs to be populated with sufficient high-quality information. That is the challenge now.

This means that COHRED does not intend to 'own' or control the data – instead, we offer the platform and develop an open but high quality editorial policy to allow interested people and organisations to contribute, validate and use data on research for health and to take ownership of the country pages. Once sufficient information is available, HRWeb will encourage critical and comparative analysis of all aspects of research systems between countries and regions. HRWeb will facilitate the way in which analyses can be done quickly – almost 'real time' – and make downloads available for further analyses. Because Health Research Web is developed in the public domain, the use of the information for analysis and comparison will be open.
Should you wish to contribute – whether ideas, information, programming, financial support or in any other way – please contact
HRWebSupport@healthresearchweb.org or start a discussion on our Idea Box page.