In March 2018, the Ministry of Health in Zambia convened the first ever national Evidence for Impact symposium in Lusaka. This abstract-driven symposium aimed at gathering and presenting evidence with the deliberate intent to be used by policymakers and stakeholders to contribute to national socio-economic development. The symposium attracted hundreds of national policymakers across various health disciplines, practitioners, donors, national and international development partners and academia. It focused on critical evidence generated in Zambia over recent years and aiming at sharing learning, and maximising gains at primary and community levels to create impact. The symposium was an excellent example of Evidence into Action and EHPSA was there to follow the proceedings.
A highlight for us was the presentation of early findings from one of the EHPSA-funded studies, PopART for Youth (P-ART-Y). This is a study nested within the HPTN 071 research study that will determine the impact of a package of HIV prevention interventions on community-level HIV incidence in South Africa and Zambia. Joseph Mwate Chalia from Zambart and Rick Olson from UNICEF moderated the interactive session.The study used the door-to-door test and treat approach and found that young people were open to HIV testing delivered in this manner. However, HIV testing for younger adolescents remained a challenge. Participants in the session concluded that it is important that 90-90-90 treatment programmes target young people by creating a conducive and supportive environment for young people on treatment.
During the closing ceremony, a high level panel called on all participants to take the work forward and ensure that evidence generated can be used to improve the lives of all people in Zambia. The symposium closed by stressing the importance of translating research into policy and urged all participants to:
- Ensure co-creation of evidence to guarantee ownership of research results.
- Engage policy makers, researchers and end users at all stages of research.
- Go beyond research dissemination to research utilisation.
- Ensure that in the research pathway, research utilisation is integrated right from the beginning.
- Plan research with end users in mind.
- Ensure pilot projects that have been proven to be effective are scaled up. This will require financial, technical and human resources to do it.
- Build capacity in research utilisation skills and knowledge translation techniques in all relevant institutions i.e government, civil society and communities.
The closing comments were like music to EHPSA’s ears, as they resonate our approach to evidence into action, which entails early, continuous and responsible engagement along the research continuum.
The Zambian Government has placed significant importance on research as the source for evidence-based decision making; therefore it has created the National Health Research Authority to coordinate and ensure utilisation of data from national health research. The research environment in Zambia is strengthening and there is now a National Health Research Policy. In order to ensure that research is responsive to Government and national priorities, the National Health Research Authority is developing the Research Agenda, which is setting research priorities for health research in Zambia.