Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Moving to research partnerships in developing countries

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 30 September 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:827
  1. Anthony Costello, professor of international child health (,
  2. Alimuddin Zumla, professor of infectious disease and international healthb
  1. a Centre for International Child Health, Institute of Child Health, University College, London WC1N 1EH
  2. b Centre for Infectious Diseases and International Health, Royal Free and University College Medical School, Windeyer Institute of Medical Sciences, University College, London WC1N 6DB
  1. Correspondence to: A Costello

    What should be the principles behind investment in research in developing countries? Does current practice overemphasise the results of research and ignore issues like ownership, sustainability, and development of national research capacity? We believe that the research model supported by many funding agencies remains semicolonial in nature. Foreign domination in setting research priorities and project management may have negative consequences which outweigh the apparent benefits of the research findings. National academic leaders and institutions need to be involved if research is to be translated into practice. The deterioration in academic infrastructure in many developing countries needs to be reversed as part of any research investment. A truly cooperative research partnership, which should be monitored by funding agencies, rests on four broad principles:

    • Mutual trust and shared decision making

    • National ownership

    • Emphasis on getting research findings into policy and practice

    • Development of national research capacity.

    Summary points

    Much foreign-led research in developing countries remains semicolonial in nature and may have negative effects on partner countries

    “Annexed site” research led by expatriates should be phased out and replaced by a partnership model in which nationals lead research projects, with only technical support from outsiders

    Research funded through national academics and institutions improves the chances of findings being translated into national policy and practice

    The principles of an equal research partnership need monitoring by funding agencies

    Existing research models in developing countries

    The semicolonial model

    Some styles of research interaction pay little attention to ownership, sustainability and the development of national research capacity. “Postal research,” whereby Western researchers request colleagues in Africa to courier to them biological samples, is still practised, though less commonly than in the past. “Parachute research,” whereby researchers travel to Africa or Asia for short periods of time and take back biological samples, is still relatively common. Results of both types of research are often published with minimal representation of …

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