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The role of the health research system during the COVID-19 epidemic: experiences, challenges and future vision

Health research systems were already under strain when COVID-19 brought significant challenges, as well as making the existing challenges in health research systems more visible and significant [1].

In this context, the global, national and local health research system is expected to be able to answer the following questions:

  •  How to manage and control the current epidemic,
  •  How to prevent future epidemics,
  •  How to be more prepared in the event of the outbreak of such crises.

To control and manage the COVID-19 epidemic, and to effectively prevent and respond to future epidemics there are knowledge gaps that need to be addressed in various fields, and a wide range of research in basic sciences, clinical sciences, public health sciences, implementation science, and policy and system studies is needed to fill these gaps.

There are different systems, structures and processes for health research in different countries. In some countries the research system is fragmented, and since a wide range of interdisciplinary research is needed to control and manage the COVID-19 epidemic [2], the way these separate parts interact together is very important.

Recognising this, HARPS is dedicating a thematic issue to the role of health research systems in the control and management of COVID-19, so that the experiences of countries can be shared with each other and the lessons learned are accessible to all. Although the role of research systems in the control and management of crisis can be examined from different perspectives and by different frameworks, the following topics are particularly valuable:

o The building blocks of the health research system[3]: What was the status of each of these elements alone and in relation to each other, and what effect did the status have on the effective performance of the health research system? What interventions and innovations were made in each of the blocks to strengthen its status and what effect did it have?

These building blocks and operational components are: 
Stewardship: define and articulate vision for a health research system, identify appropriate health research priorities and coordinate adherence to them, set and monitor ethical standards for health research and research partnerships, monitor and evaluate of the health research system,
Financing: Secure research funds and allocate them accountably,
Creating and sustaining resources: Build, strengthen and sustain the human and physical capacity to conduct, absorb and utilize health research),
Producing and using research: Produce scientifically valid research output, Translate and communicate research to inform health policy, strategies, practices and public opinion, Promote the use of research to develop new tools to improve health.

o The effectiveness, efficiency and equity of the health research system  in facing the COVID-19 epidemic [4]:
Effectiveness: Dose it produce any outputs, outcomes or broader impact?
Efficiency: Compared to the cost spent on conducting research, how acceptable are its outputs (e.g investigating and reducing research waste)?
Equity: Fair distribution of research resources and distribution of research benefits in target groups in connection to personal needs

The Editors declare no competing interests.

1. Turner T, El-Jardali F. The crucible of COVID-19: what the pandemic is teaching us about health research systems. Health Research Policy and Systems. 2020;18:52.
2. Interdisciplinary research in epidemic preparedness and response, Workshop report , UK  Academy of Medical Sciences ,  Medical Research Council, InterAcademy Partnership for Health; October 2019.
3. Hanney S KL, Pokhrel S, Jones T, Boaz A.  What is the evidence on policies, interventions and tools for establishing and/or strengthening national health research systems and their effectiveness? Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2020 (Health Evidence Network (HEN) synthesis report 69).
4. Hinrichs-Krapels.S, Jonathan.G. Exploring the effectiveness, efficiency and equity (3e’s) of research and research impact assessment. Palcomms 2016;2:16090.

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