There are many research organisations working in Malawi and in other African countries. An uncoordinated, unharmonised and nonaligned policy engagement could be very costly in terms of time and resources for policy-makers. Policy-makers need to spend more of their time in policy implementation rather than meeting, listening and entertaining competing multiple research, organisations and research lobby groups.
The Malawi Ministry of Health and Population’s Planning and Policy Development Department is mandated to lead policy management processes across the entire health and population sectors. While policy making requires high quality evidence, the policy analysis capacity which is essential for generating evidence and supporting decision making is limited within the Ministry.
To address this gap, the Health Economics and Policy Unit (HEPU) was established at the College of Medicine of the University of Malawi with support of the Thanzi la Onse project in September 2018 as a one stop centre of policy engagement using the principles of harmonisation, alignment, mutual accountability, independence, and value and evidence-based policy. HEPU has the primary aim of creating a space where evidence is demanded or supplied to support value-evidence-based policy-making in the Malawian health sector. To ensure alignment of HEPU’s research priorities according to the needs of the health sector, a Health Economics, Policy and Ethics (HEPE) Think Tank was setup and met for the first time on 18th December 2018.
The HEPE Think Tank acts as an advisory committee to HEPU which will provide on-going guidance on research direction to HEPU, and ensure that its health economics and policy analysis capacity in Malawi is employed to deliver high quality research that meets the evidence needs of policy-makers. Think Tank meetings are organised by HEPU around topical agendas reflecting current policy debates and issues voiced by the Ministry. Think Tank meetings are held every quarter with invitations to key researchers, policy-makers, and donor representatives, reflecting the demands of the agenda. Recent meetings were attended by Directors and Deputy Directors from the Department of Planning and Policy Development, the Director of the Health Services Research Department, Director of Quality Management and Digital Health Directorate, Director of Human Resources Development and Management, and Head of the Public Health Institute of Malawi.
HEPU has established innovative mechanisms that will play an essential role in the development and use of high quality and impactful health economics and policy research in Malawi.
Experiences from other policy initiatives demonstrated that without an effective delivery mechanism, research priorities and resolutions from the HEPE Think Tank meetings may not effectively translate into practice. To mitigate this challenge and ensure appropriate follow-up, a Policy Lab was concurrently created within HEPU with the aim to translate research priorities into proposals and coordinate project implementation. The Policy Lab will be staffed by dedicated policy analysts and technical officers from the Ministry under the guidance of HEPU, two deputy directors from the Department of Planning and Policy Development, and the Head of the Health Services Research Department. Currently, in addition to their roles, HEPU staff support the Health Policy Lab until full time staff positions are established.
With this double structure of Think Tank and Policy Lab, HEPU has established innovative mechanisms that have taken into account lessons from past experiences to act as an active link between the Ministry and the College of Medicine. This mechanism will play an essential role in the development and use of high quality and impactful health economics and policy research in Malawi by providing four key functions:
1. It establishes a platform for policy-makers and researchers to work and think together, thereby eliminating any ambiguity in interpreting their policy research questions.
2. With HEPU as an independent academic unit leading the development of concept notes, the Ministry’s need for evidence can be translated into research projects of the highest academic quality and integrity, ensuring the highest quality of evidence.
3. By engaging the policy-makers throughout the research process, it supports fast and efficient adoption of research, demonstrating benefits for policy.
4. The composition of the Think Thank and Policy Lab is multi-disciplinary and adaptive to policy needs, thus ensuring that this organisational structure has the capacity to act as a one stop centre for policy research for Government and partners in the future.
By: Joseph Mfutso-Bengo, Matthias Arnold, Mercy Juma & Dominic Nkhoma | 21st August 2019