Intended for healthcare professionals

Analysis Health in South Asia

Health research priorities and gaps in South Asia

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 11 April 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j1510
  1. Soumya Swaminathan, director general1 2,
  2. Huma Qureshi, executive director3,
  3. Mahmood Uz Jahan, director4,
  4. Dharma K Baskota, chairman5,
  5. Sunil De Alwis, deputy director general6,
  6. Lalit Dandona, distinguished research professor7 8
  1. 1Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi, India
  2. 2Department of Health Research, Government of India, New Delhi, India
  3. 3Pakistan Health Research Council, Islamabad, Pakistan
  4. 4Bangladesh Medical Research Council, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  5. 5Nepal Medical Council, Kathmandu, Nepal
  6. 6Education, Training and Research, Ministry of Health, Colombo, Sri Lanka
  7. 7Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, India
  8. 8Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
  1. Correspondence to: S Swaminathan soumya.s{at}

Soumya Swaminathan and colleagues call for increased funding and regional collaboration to boost research relevant to disease and health priorities in South Asia

Health research in South Asia is widely acknowledged to be inadequate to inform policy and action to improve health outcomes in the populations. We examine current investment into health research and outputs in South Asian countries and suggest how they can be improved.

Changing disease profile in South Asia

To maximise its benefits, health research must take into account trends in disease burden among the population. Although the relative contribution of non-communicable diseases to the disease burden has increased in South Asia, the burden of communicable diseases continues to be high in all countries except Sri Lanka (fig 1).1 Injuries continue to be an important population health problem in all countries. Previous analyses suggest that research output is often not consistent with population health priorities or disease burden.23456 For example, an analysis from India reported that some of the leading contributors to disease burden within all three groupings— communicable disease, non-communicable disease, and injuries—had a disproportionately low representation in published papers and research reports.2

Fig 1 Change in disease profile, as measured by disability adjusted life years (DALYs), in South Asian countries from 1990 to 20151

Low health research output

Estimates from a multicountry assessment show that the number of health publications per capita from South Asian countries during 2002-11 was substantially lower than in Brazil and China, and two orders of magnitude lower than in high income countries (table 1).7 Of the total publications globally, 30% were on health during this period. Among South Asian countries the proportion of health publications was highest for Nepal (50%) and lowest for India (16%). Although the number of PubMed listed papers per capita increased more quickly …

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