In order to achieve universal and equitable access to health care, improve the quality of health care, and use health care resources wisely, policy makers need to make wellinformed decisions. Unfortunately, health policies are often not well-informed by research evidence. Poorly informed decision-making is one of several reasons why services fail to reach those most in need, health indicators are off track, and it appears unlikely that many countries in Africa will meet the health Millennium Development Goals.
SURE is a collaborative project that builds on and supports the WHO Evidence-Informed Policy Network (EVIPNet) in Africa and the Region of East Africa Community Health (REACH) Policy Initiative. The project involves teams of researchers and policymakers in seven African countries and is supported by research teams in three European countries and Canada. The main aims of the SURE project are to:
Seventeen evidence-based policy briefs have been published. Evidence-based policy briefs are
reports that focus on a priority issue suggested by policy makers, and include a summary of the
best available evidence, often from systematic reviews, such as Cochrane reviews, together with
local evidence to address the issue of interest. Examples of policy briefs that have been
developed include: Task shifting to optimise the roles of health workers to improve the delivery
of maternal and child healthcare, Strengthening the health system for mental health, Strategies to
reduce maternal mortality.
Policy dialogues have been hosted by the African partners to discuss each policy brief. Policy dialogues are interactive, knowledge sharing mechanisms that facilitate interaction between researchers and policy makers. They provide an opportunity for stakeholders such as civil society organisations, private providers, as well as consumers to review the research evidence and consider the policy options and implementation strategies suggested in the policy briefs.
Rapid response services have been developed by the SURE project to respond to policymakers’ urgent needs for evidence related to health systems questions. Rapid response services are operational in Uganda and Burkina Faso, and are being developed in Cameroon and Zambia.
Two clearing houses; the EVIPNet Virtual Health library(http://global.evipnet.org/) and PDQ Evidence (http://www.pdq-evidence.org/) that provide quick and easy access to evidence for health systems questions relevant to low- and middle-income countries have been developed. These clearing houses have served as reference for the development of a clearing house in Uganda with particular focus on local evidence (http://uchpsr.org/).
SURE Guides: A set of resources intended to support those who use or develop evidence-based policy briefs has been developed. These include power point presentations, audio and video clips that share the SURE project experiences and include a list of additional useful resources.
Several workshops have been held, and an international conference organised in Addis Ababa in August 2012, to build capacity among researchers and policymakers. These workshops help to develop skills in searching for and appraising research, developing systematic reviews, preparing and using policy briefs, organising policy dialogues, rapid response services and other strategies to support evidence-informed health policymaking.
Evaluation of evidence-based policy briefs by stakeholders in the African countries indicated high ratings on design features, and lower ratings on ‘not providing recommendations’. Policy dialogues were likewise rated high for design features and low for not aiming to build consensus. Evaluation of other strategies is on- going.
Putting the evidence into evidence-informed policymaking
The development of strategies that support the use of research in policymaking and technical capacity in seven African countries can materially change the ability of low- and middle- income countries (LMIC), to meet, and the European Community to support, the attainment of international goals such as the MDGs and the Mexico Statement on Health Research.
Building evidence-informed policymaking capacity in LMIC
SURE has delivered a series of workshops and other capacity building activities to promote the use of research evidence to inform health policy decisions and the production of relevant, reliable, accessible and timely research syntheses. Such workshops help policymakers to make better use of research evidence and researchers to better address the needs of policymakers and other stakeholders.
Supporting strong scientific partnerships with LMIC
The SURE Project involved a partnership between low- and middle-income countries, European and Canadian scientists, WHO and two LMIC networks (EVIPNet and REACH) that promote evidence-informed policymaking. This provided a scientifically strong and highly credible platform from which to develop and evaluate effective strategies for improving access to and use of research evidence to inform health policy. It also has provided broad and effective channels through which to disseminate resources and experience from the SURE project to policymakers and researchers in partner countries and beyond. This partnership is anchored in Africa with strong links to networks in other LMIC around the world.