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Warning over dearth of Covid-19 research in poorer countries

Only 15 per cent of coronavirus research taking place in global south, data suggest

Global research leaders have said too little research on Covid-19 has taken place in low- and middle-income countries, and that such countries must take more of a central role as the pandemic continues.

The warning comes as data suggest only around 15 per cent of coronavirus research projects are taking place in LMICs, despite them carrying the burden of some of the highest Covid-19 death tolls. 

“The inequities that we knew existed have really been exposed by this virus, and that includes inequity in research,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told a conference organised this week by the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (Glopid-R).

“We cannot be only consumers of research, but we should co-create research that is in the right context,” Nkengasong added. “I think it’s very appropriate that…low- and middle-income countries play a central role in all of this going forward.”

Charu Kaushic, the chair of Glopid-R—an alliance of funders set up to coordinate the international research response to emerging epidemics, said her group “currently has a very strong priority in understanding the LMIC research needs and gaps”.

She said Glopid-R was now focused on increasing its membership in the global south. Of its 29 current members, three are from Africa, four are from Asia and five are from Latin America.

Context is everything

Peter Piot, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that context-specific research is “vitally important” for Covid-19, and that “too little research has been conducted on Covid-19 for resource limited environments”.

He pointed towards the fact that vaccine trials in Brazil and South Africa had produced different results to those in Western countries.

The UK Collaborative on Development Research, a group of government departments and UK-based funders, has been tracking the number of research projects taking place during the pandemic. Its latest data shows 1,393 projects out of 9,102 worldwide have taken place in LMICs.

Along with Glopid-R and UKCDR, the conference was co-organised by the Covid-19 Clinical Research Coalition, which is focused on facilitating research in low-resource settings. The coalition has over 200 institutional members from 60 countries and is chaired by Nick White, a tropical medicine expert at Mahidol University in Thailand.

“If we have one message, it is that the voice of active representatives of resource limited settings should be heard in making the big decisions about research direction, and research funding for Covid-19,” said White.

This article also appeared in Research Europe