Improving the availability and use of health research information in LMICs (2)

31 January, 2020

To take up Neil's invitation (and since I aim to be in Geneva for the Roundtable), let me offer a thought about the targets for health research information. I think there are three main targets, each a step in knowledge translation beyond the preceding one, and each a layer further from the thoughts of the person(s) conducting the original research. These targets are: 1) other health researchers, 2) policy makers, and 3) the general public.

Ask a researcher who his/her research is for, and he/she will say "other researchers". That much is usually clear: all research is part of an ongoing two-way dialogue with past and future researchers - the past is in the reference list, and the future is in the impact factor of the paper after publication. Researchers are typically very clear on this.

Depending on the topic and on the individuals, many researchers will appreciate that some health research will also be of importance to policy makers, but recognize that policy makers rarely read academic journals. At this point, there is a need for knowledge intermediaries - people who will take the dull, over-complicated academic language and make it fit for consumption by decision-makers. For this there are programmes like WHO's EVIPNET and others which work on producing policy briefs and the like - essentially pulling out the action points and simplifying the discussion, so that the research becomes accessible to non-researchers.

Finally, there is the general public, which has become far more active in the search for health information with the arrival and spread of the internet. The internet has been nothing less than a revolution in the pattern of health communication, and yet health research often seems to carry on as if nothing has changed. Here the knowledge intermediaries who will help to make the research accessible are people like librarians and journalists. In emergency research (like the current rush to get out a coronavirus vaccine), public pressure on decision-makers is often crucial in accelerating progress, and public awareness is essential for any remedial campaigns that result.

But even routine, non-emergency health research - such as research into dietary factors and other components of healthy lifestyles – needs to diffuse into public awareness. This is an area that is often completely forgotten, until something goes wrong, like the occasional (viral?) successes of the Anti-Vaxxer campaign. One of the causes of "fake news" is the poor penetration of the truth. Journalists tend to be generalists and often find themselves without reliable sources of specialized information to hand. They can commit mistakes for this reason alone, and not from some malign intention. Valid health information needs to be easily accessible by knowledge intermediaries. WHO's press briefs are a start, but more emphasis is needed on this final step of the health communications pathway.

What we need to remember is that it is not just R2P (research to policy) but R2P2P (research to policy to practice). For the last step to function properly, health research needs to reach the general public in a comprehensible form. All the links in the chain need to be there for the health communications process to function as it should.

Chris Zielinski

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HIFA profile: Chris Zielinski: As a Visiting Fellow in the Centre for Global Health, Chris leads the Partnerships in Health Information (Phi) programme at the University of Winchester. Formerly an NGO, Phi supports knowledge development and brokers healthcare information exchanges of all kinds. Chris has held senior positions in publishing and knowledge management with WHO in Brazzaville, Geneva, Cairo and New Delhi, with FAO in Rome, ILO in Geneva, and UNIDO in Vienna. Chris also spent three years in London as Chief Executive of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society. He was the founder of the ExtraMED project (Third World biomedical journals on CD-ROM), and managed the Gates Foundation-supported Health Information Resource Centres project. He served on WHO’s Ethical Review Committee, and was an originator of the African Health Observatory. Chris has been a director of the World Association of Medical Editors, UK Copyright Licensing Agency, Educational Recording Agency, and International Association of Audiovisual Writers and Directors. He has served on the boards of several NGOs and ethics groupings (information and computer ethics and bioethics). UK-based, he is also building houses in Zambia. chris AT

His publications are at and and his blogs are and