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Understanding the state of health policy and systems research in West Africa and capacity strengthening needs: scoping of peer-reviewed publications trends and patterns 1990–2015

By Selina Defor, Aku Kwamie and Irene Akua Agyepong


Abstract Background The need for locally-driven, locally-generated evidence to guide health policy and systems decision-making and implementation in West Africa remains urgent. Thus, health policy and systems research (HPSR) is a field with great potential for addressing many of the sub-region’s intransigent health challenges. This paper presents an analysis of trends and patterns of peer-reviewed HPSR publications across the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to help understand trends and patterns of HPSR publication and the degree of involvement of West African researchers in HPSR evidence generation in the sub-region. Our goal was to use the findings to inform the development of a sub-regional strategy to strengthen HPSR and its use to inform development and improvement of health outcomes. Methods A scoping review was conducted over a 25-year period from January 1990 to September 2015. Literature searches were conducted in English and French using Google Scholar, PubMed Central and Results A total of 258 articles were retrieved. Of these, 246 were statistically analysed, with 54% having West African lead authors. Two thirds of the papers originated from three out of the 15 countries of the ECOWAS, specifically Nigeria (28.86%), Burkina Faso (21.54%) and Ghana (17.07%). Most authors were based in academic institutions and participation of authors from ministries of health, hospitals and non-governmental organisations was limited. English was the predominant language for publication even for papers originating from Francophone West African countries. There has been a progressive increase in publications over the studied period. Conclusion Despite progressive improvements over time, West Africa remains a weak sub-region in terms of peer-reviewed HPSR publications. Within the overall weakness, there is country-to-country variation. The fact that only a handful of countries accounted for nearly 70% of the total volume of publications in West Africa attests to the great disparities in individual, institutional and contextual capacities for HPSR evidence generation. Bridging the gap between lead institutions (universities and research centres) and the practice community (ministries, hospitals, non-governmental organisations) is indispensable for ensuring the practical use of HPSR evidence. There remains a major need for investments in HPSR capacity building in West Africa

Topics: Public aspects of medicine, RA1-1270
Publisher: BMC
Year: 2017
DOI identifier: 10.1186/s12961-017-0215-7
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