Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Disease (TDR) (Int Dev 26)

Df ID support to the

Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Disease (TDR) for building capacity in research o n diseases of poverty

The Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Disease (TDR) was established in 1975 with the objectives to: (1) develop new methods of preventing, diagnosing and treating tropical diseases; and (2) strengthen - through training and support to institutions - the capability of developing endemic countries to undertake the research required to develop disease control tools and technologies. From the beginning, there was a strong emphasis on the involvement of both funders and recipients.

DFID has made significant core funding contributions to TDR over the past 35 years totaling over US$ 60 million, of which a significant amount was used for TDR's activities in building research capacity in low and middle income countries.

TDR has undergone four reviews of its capacity building activities since it was established. All four studies reported high success in training programmes and a high satisfaction rate from the grantees. Most of the grantees trained abroad have returned to their country of origin and have moved up to higher positions in their institutions or in government agencies. Both institutions and individuals have increased their publication records, their national and international collaboration and the number of competitive grants gained in the post-grant period. The majority of grantees attributed a high proportion of their research skills to the TDR-funded training. They reported that this training allowed them to participate in international meetings and establish collaborations with policy makers. Consistently, the Special Programme has been advised to maintain and expand its investment into training and capacity building.

First review cycle (1975-1990)

Over these 15 years, 179 institution-strengthening were awarded to 134 institutions in 45 countries, with five countries (Argentina, Brazil, Kenya, China, Thailand) receiving more than ten grants. The majority of these grants were long-term institution-strengthening grants (LTG), which were the only institutional grants awarded until 1988.

The review showed that the scientific publication record at these institutions increased from six to 14. Most of the institutions increased the number of competitive grants received compared to the pre-grant period. All institutions established or improved their national and international collaborative activities during and after the grant period: 96% of them had collaborations with national government, 83% with other national institutions and 48% with international institutions, this last factor being an important measure of success. Most of the individuals trained with these grants stayed in the training institution and some moved to higher positions. Among the most cited factors of failure were macro-political and macroeconomic ones, and a lack of leadership and senior scientists to provide support.

During the same period, 1 241 training grants were awarded to 993 individuals, with the majority of grants (57%) awarded to individuals coming from Africa and Latin America. About 90% of the respondents were satisfied with the training they received through the TDR grant. The review reported a high rate of training completion (90%) and almost all the grantees returned home (93%). However, many grantees also experienced some problems after returning to their home countries. The most frequently cited constraints were: lack of material and financial resources, low economic reward for research and poor research career structure; lack of access to scientific literature, lack of transport and logistic support for field work, burdensome administrative procedures; lack of support from supervisors and lack of trained technicians. A large proportion of the grantees were still active in their fields, and most had gone on to higher positions in their institutions or other institutions in their country or in governments or academic centres.

The review identified a good publication record (ranging from 1 to 5 papers in international peer-reviewed journals) for 71% of the grantees. About 45% of the grantees gained international competitive grants after their TDR training and over 50% of re-entry grants recipient were successful in competing for TDR R&D grants. Only 26.6 % of the training was awarded to women, with large variations from different geographical areas (the highest rate was in South East Asia at 42.2%).

The main recommendation of this review was to make the training of promising, motivated and talented young researchers the cornerstone of the TDR capacity building strategy, and to support more in the Least Developing Countries (LDCs). Some concerns were raised about the gender balance and research topics balance. Few grants were awarded to women and most funded projects were on epidemiology, entomology and basic research. Malaria accounted for 50% of all funded projects. Also recommended was the promotion of research in social sciences and health economics to help translate research findings into public health policies and to develop a suitable TDR-grants monitoring system.

Second review cycle (1990-1997)

The second review included all TDR-funded PhDs (131), re-entry grants (30) and three modalities of institution strengthening grants (25):

1. The programme based grants (PBGs) awarded on a competitive basis to strengthen research and/or training programmes.

2. The ‘3+2’-year grant which was awarded mainly to institutions in the least developed countries to develop core research staff in countries where research was not well developed.

3. The partnership grants established in 1988 in cooperation with the Rockefeller Foundation to establish cooperation between northern and southern institutions with complementary expertise.

The review noted that the programme made a large effort to train highly motivated and talented individuals in developing countries and this led to an extraordinary growth of scientific knowledge and techniques for tropical diseases. Interestingly, in response to the recommendation of the first review, the least developed African countries accounted for 51% of all grantees. Publication records showed that African trainees published more compared to the others, and a Medline review showed that 60% of the trainees published more in the post-grant period. The TDR-PhD graduates were more successful in obtaining other TDR grants such as re-entry grants or R&D grants. Some 63% of the re-entry grants were awarded to African scientists who introduced modern laboratory techniques such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), gene cloning and sequencing in developing countries.

Third review cycle (1990-2000)

The results from this study, conducted on 133 individual research training grants, showed a high score of satisfaction from the grantees. About 80% had published more than four articles in peer-reviewed journals, and they reported that their findings were incorporated into policy or programme changes. All reported that they had at some stage contact with policy-makers and had participated in national and/or international meetings; 75% were principal investigators (PI) or co-PIs in research projects. The TDR grant allowed most of them to develop national and international collaborations, mainly with universities and one quarter developed new tools or methodologies, essentially diagnostic tools.

Fourth review cycle (2000-2008)

During this time, TDR supported the development of 116 research training grants (RTG), 22 career development fellowships (CDF), 83 re-entry grants (REG), 57 research grants for the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM/TDR), and 41 institution-strengthening grants (ISG).

Most grantees (individuals and institutions) were satisfied with their collaboration with TDR. However, there was disequilibrium with regards to gender and the majority of the grantees came from the English-speaking countries. In least developed countries, the training grants were highly appreciated due to the lack of qualified scientists and the poor research infrastructure there. In high income countries, the TDR research grants were even more highly appreciated, because they were perceived as useful additions to the local funds, particularly for young researchers who were yet established and could not compete for international competitive grants.

The main recommendation was that TDR should maintain and even expand its investment into training and capacity building, and should consider developing country-specific programmes in collaboration with WHO country offices and national authorities to address specific needs of each country.

Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Disease (TDR)


16 December 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011