New research for rapid-response health care can aid in humanitarian crisis

WNN Science & Health

Cholera vaccine clinic South Chad, Africa
People receive vaccines and a checkup as part of a health intervention at a cholera treatment center in the town of Bongor, southern Chad, at the border with Cameroon in October 2011. Swift action continues to be a necessary part of cholera epidemic prevention as health teams move into affected regions with rapid-response-teams to work swiftly to stop the disease. Accurate and rapid research on the spread of contagion is also an important part of crisis intervention. Image: UN

(WNN/SciDev) London, England, UNITED KINGDOM, WESTERN EUROPE: An innovative new research program is being set up to help build evidence for cost-effective health provision in humanitarian crises — an area where there are major data gaps.

The program will feature a number of funding rounds, including a unique ‘rapid response research’ facility that will allow pre-approved research programs to be initiated at short notice in crisis situations.

The facility will be the first of its kind aimed at allowing research teams to go into acute early stages of an emergency to gather data.

When it comes to understanding what works for health interventions in humanitarian crises “there is a gap and it needs to be filled”, according to Christopher Whitty, chief scientific advisor and director of the Research and Evidence Division at the DFID – UK Department for International Development, which is funding the program alongside the Wellcome Trust.

Research is “pretty thin” as funding for crises tends to be short and episodic, while research needs long-term investment, Witty said at the launch of the new program: Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC), in London on June 4, 2013.

He noted that because of current funding trends for aid and the patterns of population growth, the money spent on such crises is likely to increase. This suggests a need for more research on impact and cost effectiveness of crisis response.

Paul Spiegel, deputy director of the program support and management division at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who will chair the funding committee for R2HC, said the new program welcomes a range of proposals on issues from crisis to early recovery.

He said the current crisis in Syria shows the kinds of questions that need to be answered. Challenges include knowing how to best administer oral cholera vaccines or getting the balance right when investing in shelter, health and education.

Spiegel also said there was little available evidence on how to act in such crises, particularly regarding the best way to work in middle-income countries or with refugees who are not in camps.

The R2HC program has up to £6.5 million (around US$10 million) available for funding until the end of 2016. It is managed by the network Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA), which is planning meetings in New York, in the United States, Nairobi, in Kenya, and New Delhi, in India, to solicit research grant applications.

Daniel Davies, R2HC program manager, said “partnership is going to be key to this”. The funders hope to get organizations working on the ground to partner with research organizations for operationally relevant research.

The first call for research proposals, which is now open, has £3 million (US$4.6 million) available for grants. The details of the rapid response facility are still being developed but £1 million (US$1.5 million) has been earmarked for this type of research over the course of the program.

Jimmy Whitworth, head of international activities at the Wellcome Trust, said the facility is a real novelty. “We’ve talked for a number of years about how great it would be if this existed,” he said.

However there are a number of challenges facing the team, including how to manage the research ethics for a range of unspecified locations, and obtaining permission to make research proposals open access even as researchers are waiting to collect any data.