World Health Organization and knowledge translation in maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition (5)

25 June, 2022

For me, the two main avenues of knowledge translation of health research are: 1) translation for application in health policies, and 2) translation for application by the general public.

Knowledge translation for policy- and decision-makers is often in the form of policy briefs (supported by such efforts as WHO’s EVIPNet). The notion is that policymakers are generally unlikely to read research journal literature, and so they are provided with the research translated into short, clear, actionable briefings. This is certainly a valuable and needed process.

Knowledge translation for the general public serves the same purpose. Here the translation is usually performed by the media (and it should be noted that policymakers get as much of their briefings from TV, blogs and newspapers as they do from policy briefs).

However, support for this second component of knowledge translation is often neglected or non-existent. It often appears that the scientific/research establishment looks down on the popularization of knowledge. There is no well-organized demotic path from research results to news articles, and consequently it is no surprise that the media so often get it completely wrong (as we have seen in the COVID infodemic).

Although WHO has an ever-growing headcount of communication specialists, they spend most of their time preparing literature aimed at funding sources, top government officials and the health research communities, rather than the general public.

While WHO’s emphasis shifted towards the broader public during the COVID infodemic, when misinformation was leading to a genuine health problem, this shift is not evident elsewhere in WHO. Apart from sporadic press releases and fact sheets, there is no significant organization-wide effort to make the results of health research intelligible to the general public. To an extent this is an organizational policy - the belief that it is up to the countries to adapt WHO’s normative work for their own particular circumstances. But more could be done to promote such knowledge translation, and the effort itself could help promote WHO’s public image. For its part, HIFA should certainly continue to advocate the popularization of valid health research as a part of its support for knowledge translation.

Chris Zielinski

Blogs: and

Research publications:

HIFA profile: Chris Zielinski: As a Visiting Fellow and Lecturer at the Centre for Global Health, University of Winchester, Chris leads the Partnerships in Health Information (Phi) programme. 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 served on WHO’s Ethical Review Committee, and was an originator of the African Health Observatory. Chris is the elected Vice President (and President-in-Waiting) of the World Association of Medical Editors. He has been a director of the 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). chris AT

His publications are at and and his blogs are and