Kolkata: Each year hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on research and development (R&D) towards new or improved health products and processes, ranging from medicines to vaccines to diagnostics.
But the way these funds are distributed and spent is often poorly aligned with global public health needs.
One year ago, the World Health Organization launched a new initiative to gather information and provide an accurate picture of where and how R&D monies are being spent, helping governments, funders and researchers to make better decisions on investment and policy making priorities.
Ensuring that decision-making about which diseases, countries and products receive investment funds is not entirely reliant on market forces is critical.
The 2014 outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa, which left more than 11 000 dead, dramatically exposed the lack of investments in products and approaches to prevent and minimize the impact of pathogens with epidemic potential. And gaps in R&D investments in the pipeline for antimicrobial medicines are a cause of global concern in the context of rapidly increasing antimicrobial resistance.
The Global Observatory on Health R&D has identified striking gaps and inequalities in investment both between countries and between health issues, with frequent disconnects between burden of disease and level of research activity.
High income countries have an average of 40 times more health researchers than low income countries. Based on data from 60 countries: The disparity in investment means the number of health research workers per million inhabitants in countries ranges from 1140 in Singapore to 0.2 in Zimbabwe.
Women health researchers are underrepresented in low income countries. While the average number of female researchers in high income countries is approximately 51 per cent, this drops to just 27 per cent in low income countries.
Serious imbalances in funding flows mean countries with comparable levels of poverty and health needs receive strikingly different levels of Official development assistance (ODA) for medical research and basic health sectors (health ODA). (UNI)