Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by the Health Protection Agency
(Int Dev 20)

1. How does the UK Government support scientific capacity building in developing countries and how should it improve?

1.1 On behalf of the UK, the Department for International Development (DfID) holds the lead role for promoting bilateral and multilateral programmes of international development work through capacity building in developing countries. DfID has a strong focus on Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 4, 5 and 6.

1.2 The Health Partnership Scheme (HPS) funded by DfID was launched in 2011 and was welcomed for harnessing the expertise of UK health professionals to improve health outcomes by transferring skills and supporting skills development in low income countries.

1.3 The Health Is Global outcomes framework meanwhile outlines the UK Government’s commitment to driving forward improvements in global health by 2015.

1.4 Under the framework, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is tasked with improving global health security and undertaking global health research initiatives. Both of these tasks assist implementation of the WHO International Health Regulations by proposing, funding and delivering public health capacity building activities in both developing and priority countries.

1.5 In spite of the numerous project proposals arising from DfID work programmes and the outcomes framework, there still remains a need for greater coordination between UK expert agencies and government departments, in particular DfID, in order to maximise outcomes.

1.6 Typically, UK agencies are the national experts in their respective fields. It is only appropriate that government departments directly consult with and involve these agencies where work programmes are focused on their areas of expertise.

1.7 Where DfID funding for capacity building activities has been made available to UK agencies, for instance HPS, the focus has principally been focused on a narrow aspect of international development, i.e. just MDG 4, 5 and 6.

1.8 Prior to HPS, there were reports of UK institutions recruited to DfID-commissioned projects, but only where an overseas organisation had successfully bid for a tender and subsequently sub-contracted the aforementioned institution.

1.9 This secondary involvement raises questions over existing procurement processes that insert an additional financial cost to the UK taxpayer, as well as an oversight by DfID to engage with UK institutions directly.

1.10 This short-coming is in some part due to the poor awareness among DfID staff of the work of UK agencies. The public health capacity building elements of DfID programmes are examples of where UK experts should have ideally been consulted or recruited for the actual programmes. Without soliciting input from key UK agencies, such as the HPA, these DfID programmes can only be regarded as sub-optimal.

1.11 It is widely regarded that institutional links form the basis for strong, long-term relationships. As a platform to share ideas and information, as well as promote collaboration and exchanges in support of capacity building, these links require two issues to be addressed: how to forge links between institutions in the UK and developing countries; where to find long-term funding.

1.12 While the HPS provides a health brokerage service, this does not give UK agencies access to DfID’s considerable network of overseas contacts. These should be shared with UK agencies in order to allow experts to forge the scientific links crucial to progressing capacity building. Inviting UK agency representatives to meetings between DfID and overseas institutions would also benefit this process and allow early input by UK experts.

1.13 The core funding and remit of most UK agencies is limited by national boundaries. DfID holds significant funding for capacity building activities overseas, it has not implemented a long-term mechanism to allow UK agencies to access DfID core funding directly.

1.14 Ironically, many of DfID’s priority countries have at one time sought direct assistance from the HPA, but due to lack of funding, collaboration was not initiated. Had DfID funding been made available in those instances, a long-term link may have followed. Furthermore, any expertise gained by the HPA would then have benefited the HPA and DfID.

1.15 The poor acknowledgement of and coordination with UK agencies to date has meant that any existing DfID links have not capitalised on the expertise that the UK holds.

1.16 The need for DfID to coordinate with and involve relevant UK agencies in their capacity building activities is critical to longer-term approaches to capacity building in a holistic manner in low income countries.

2. What are the most effective models and mechanisms for supporting research capacity in developing countries?

2.1 UK agencies, such as the HPA, are often the national leads in their respective fields and have equally strong track records in conducting research.

2.2 This experience positions UK agencies to support institutions in developing countries and raises questions as to why they are not more greatly involved by DfID. In particular, commissioning of research by these agencies.

2.3 The importance of institutional links applies also to supporting research capacity. The WHO Laboratory Twinning Initiative and the EU Twinning Scheme are current examples.

2.4 As with capacity building, DfID must coordinate and collaborate with UK agencies more in order to capitalise on existing national expertise. To disregard these institutions would only mean that DfID had failed to acknowledge and involve recognised UK experts.

2.5 Funding is also a limiting factor for UK agencies wishing to support research capacity in developing countries. This again relates to restrictions placed on national funding, but presents an opportunity for DfID to establish a long-term mechanism to fund the research support role that UK agencies could play.

2.6 As with all global health research initiatives, enhanced research capacity would serve to protect the UK population at a distance.

3. How does the Government monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the scientific capacity building activities it supports? Is further assessment or oversight required?

3.1 DfID contributions to multilateral organisations and activities underwent an extensive review in 2011 highlighting strengths and weaknesses.

3.2 With respect to Health Is Global activities, an independent review is conducted annually. Identified deliverables are also measured and reported against at six to 12 monthly intervals.

3.3 Given the possibility of follow-up activities, assessment of the degree of coordination with government departments would be welcomed.

4. What role does DfID’s Chief Scientific Adviser play in determining priorities and in the development and assessment of capacity building policies?

4.1 DfID’s Scientific Adviser is well positioned to liaise with partner institutions, including voluntary and private sector partners, where UK institutions play either a lead or a support role in long term relationships.

4.2 It is common for new UK partners to repeat the work of previous partners when engaging with overseas institutions. Training for UK participants would help to mitigate this problem, though ideally an online development network hosted by the Scientific Adviser would assist UK scientific staff working in developing countries to exchange the lessons they have learnt, and perhaps learn a little about development.

4.3 The Scientific Adviser could play a role in helping developing country ministries and professional associations to clarify the science policy, qualifications and career structures of scientists in the target countries. This would only be appropriate where the UK was a lead partner and required coordination with other donors.

4.4 One key issue in connection with career structures is the associated pay levels. Until recently this has not been an area in which donors would assist but this now seems to be changing and some donors directly or indirectly subsidise staff salaries. Clearly such arrangements are sensitive and require long term commitment.

5. How are government activities co-ordinated with the private and voluntary sectors?

5.1 n/a

Health Protection Agency

16 December 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011