Public Health Research in India

Public health research has gained increasing importance in India’s national health policy and public health domain as the country seeks to mitigate its high burden of disease and it inequitable distribution among the people. In this scenario, the country sets ambitions agenda towards the universalization of healthcare. Although public health research is regarded as one of the important driving forces of global health and development, the research outputs of low and middle income countries including India fares poorly with that of high income countries. The global forum for health research popularised the terminology and phenomenon called as the ‘10/90 gap’. It refers to that only $70bn are spent for global health research which estimates to only 10% invested in research into the 90% of Global Burden of Diseases (GBD). The mentioned inequality in the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) has to be addressed. This inequity is further compounded by regional inequities. As a result, the knowledge generated by health research does not adequately address the needs of countries and hinders the implementation of evidence-based policy and practice. It is in this context that there are increasing calls for strengthening health research capacity in developing countries as a ‘critical element for achieving health equity’.

In India, the situation of public health research is characteristic of the low priority to public health more generally. Only 3.3% of the total 4876 health research studies were based on public health in 2002, which indicates a very low fraction. Although the number of significant studies in this domain increased over the years, it still stands low as compared to other world nations including China and Unite State of America.  Public health research in India needs resource support, strategic planning, proper policy framework, and public and private investment. India has to set the goals for increasing and improving the public health research in the country. By focussing on health inequalities, Millennium Development Goals, Universal health care, evidence-based policy making and strong scientific conscience, the country can contribute to national and international efforts in public health research. Over last two decades, India has been significantly trying to produce more research in the domain of public health. Public Health research institutes like Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Public Health Research Institute of India (PHRII), National Institute of Public Health Training and Research, and various other organizations are producing significant amount of research articles in the field. In 2015, a bibliometric analysis of public health research in India was conducted by researchers of Department of Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). Bibliometric analysis is defined as a statistical evaluation of published scientific articles, books, or the chapters of a book, and it is an effectual way to measure the influence of publication in the scientific community. The results of the study was enlightening and enriching in the research space of health. The researchers analysed public health research works of 11 years from 2000 to 2011 and found out over 7893 works in the thematic area. The article also points out that the public health research output of India has increased over 42% between 2000 and 2010. Approximately 60.8% of the works were in the field of non-communicable diseases (NCD), child and maternal health and nutritional causes. However, the report points out the regional inequality in conducting these works is in drastic condition since studies representing north-eastern states of India remained as the most under-represented among other areas. While public health research in India has increased significantly in India, the regional inequality, lack of investments, and poor institutional capacity stand as a bottleneck for attaining public health research output comparable to global level. 

Systematic priority setting, adequate funding, and institutional capacity building are needed to address these inequities. It is imperative that India invests adequately in developing a vibrant and rigorous ecosystem of public health research at the heart of its public health strategy. Given the current context of Covid-19 pandemic, the nation has to invest and support more research in the public health as to understand the gravity of public health concerns and should plan and try to address the health issues that can possible come up in future. While the whole world is fighting against the Covid, epidemiologists and other health workers had already warned the world that more zootonic and viral infection, bacterial infections can bring human race to kneel. Knowledge and data is the power and preparation that we have acquire to tackle the future public health issues in India as well as globally.

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