Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Health research and indigenous health

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 21 August 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:445
  1. Chris Cunningham, director of health research (,
  2. Jeff Reading, scientific director2,
  3. Sandra Eades, senior research fellow3
  1. 1School of Maori Studies, Massey University, Private Box 756, Wellington, New Zealand,
  2. 2Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Institute of Aboriginal People's Health, Public Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 1A1
  3. 3Menzies School of Health Research, PO Box 41096, Casuarina NT 0811, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: C Cunningham

    In 2002 Australia, Canada, and New Zealand signed a tripartite memorandum of understanding on health research for indigenous health for the purpose of sharing expertise on the “purchase” of health research. Later this year the agreement will be augmented at a meeting to be held in Townsville, Australia

    Health research has much to contribute to improving health and research outcomes for indigenous populations. Although indigenous approaches to knowledge and learning may challenge Western orthodoxy, there is growing evidence of the value of investing in specific research projects and in capacity building for researchers of indigenous origin. Indigenous researchers are important contributors, but mainstream research can make substantive contributions if the requirements for responsiveness to the needs and expectations of indigenous populations are carefully implemented. In a policy environment three conditions–clear direction, dedicated funding, and processes governed by indigenous people–are needed to identify and enhance the quality, relevance, and responsiveness of grant applications by all researchers.

    In 2002 Australia, Canada, and New Zealand signed a tripartite memorandum of understanding on health research for indigenous health. All three countries fund research centrally through contestable grant rounds; they have considerable indigenous populations, whose health outcomes are poorer than those in non-indigenous populations; and they have developing sectors of indigenous researchers alongside Western oriented researchers. The purpose of this agreement is to share expertise on the “purchase” (funding) of health research and to develop policy for collaborative research between the three countries, including sponsoring placements of individuals, funding international research projects, and supporting other collaborative research relationships. In November 2003, this agreement will be developed at a meeting to be held in Townsville, Australia.


    In Australia the National Health and Medical Research Council ( has as its main objective to “advise the Australian community on the achievement and maintenance of the highest practicable standards …

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