The provision of sound policies for health service delivery depends critically on reliable information. Reliable information, whether epidemiological, biomedical, therapeutic, preventative or health service delivery, requires research. Research is therefore critical to an effective and affordable health service to address needs, especially in countries with limited resources. While much global funding is allocated to health research, the great majority is spent on studies in more developed countries. The Global Forum for Health Research publicized widely what has become known as “the10 – 90 gap”. There is little indication that this gap is narrowing and the control of funding for health research remains emphatically with wealthy nations. It is time for developing nations to take responsibility and prepare their own research agendas responsive to national and regional needs.
“The 10-90 gap” – 90% of global funding for health research is directed towards health problems of 10% of the world’s population.
The BRTI was founded, uniquely in Africa, as a totally independent institution with no direct funding from any governmental or non-governmental agency. This enables the BRTI to have sole responsibility for setting policies and agendas that are compatible with its mission – “to promote the health and well-being of the peoples of southern Africa. “
Increasingly, developing countries have recognized the need to utilize their own resources towards their own research goals. It was in this spirit that the Biomedical Research and Training Institute (BRTI) was established in Zimbabwe in 1995. From its inception, the BRTI was to be a sustainable project that was administered directly by scientists and managers working principally within southern Africa.
The main role of the BRTI is to provide the infrastructural support that researchers in all aspects of health need to become effective in influencing policy.
ROLE OF THE BRTI
- Assist researchers in identifying sources of co-operation, collaboration and funding at national, regional and international levels
- Promote local consultants and researchers from amongst the scientific community to encourage them to stay in the region and reduce the “brain drain” to developed nations
- Support researchers to conduct effective and ethical research projects in the broad field of human and veterinary health
- Design and deliver training courses, conferences and seminars to strengthen the capacity of laboratory scientists, researchers and research managers in the region
- Promote networks for research collaboration and linkage with policy-makers in the region
- Encourage government, industry and NGOs to facilitate the utilization of local research findings to promote local investment in new products in medicine and new approaches to health delivery.
The BRTI recognizes that scientific personnel resources in Zimbabwe and the region are limited. For this reason there is a conscious policy not to employ large numbers of research staff. The philosophy is to support the research being carried out by personnel in national institutions and universities in the region. Through providing effective and professional research facilities the BRTI encourages development of their careers within that institution, thereby adding to capacity building at individual, institutional and national levels. To compete for scarce human resources in such a critical field would be of little benefit to anyone. Instead the BRTI offers the facilities it has to researchers who may need specific areas of support, for example the availability of a well-equipped TB Laboratory, that will enable them to complete their own research program.
The BRTI has now been in existence for more than 20 years, and has grown remarkably during that time from an institute with a single room office and a staff of just 3 into an organization that manages several million US$ in funding each year, and has a total staff complement (including project-specific staff) of over 150 The strengths of BRTI include the dedication and vision of its Management Board and the commitment, professionalism and motivation of staff in both core activities and in projects and programmes. At its inception the BRTI was dedicated to improving the health of people in southern Africa through support for national and regional scientific endeavours. We believe the best way we can do this is to continue to contribute to research that can provide the evidence needed to implement effective health policy and planning. We value highly the role of national, regional and international partners in achieving our goal and look forward to maintaining existing links and to establishing new ones.
Since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has been through many difficult times. Economic challenges have impacted negatively on both health and educational sectors, with a decline in many of the indicators of effective delivery of services. The BRTI has not just survived but has grown into a vibrant and strong Zimbabwean institution that has made a significant contribution to health and development. We look confidently to the future, knowing from our past history that the Institute fulfils a vital role in health research and training in the region – responding positively to becoming a Center of Excellence in Health Research and Training.
We are always happy to welcome partners who can help in making our vision a reality.