Exploring the utilisation of research evidence in Uganda's health policy formulation processes: a case if the National Medicines Policy 2015
Tumwebaze, K. Frank
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Introduction: Research is a vital tool in formulating health policies aimed at improving service delivery. Policies that utilize research evidence at formulation are likely to be more successful in achieving desired goals. A lot of health systems research is increasingly being conducted in Uganda, from research institutions, think-tanks, independent researchers and consultants, NGOs and international organizations. However, the extent to which this research evidence informs policy making processes is not yet clearly known. Objective: To explore the extent to which the process of formulating the Uganda National Medicines Policy (NMP) 2015 utilized research evidence, and what factors influenced the utilization of research evidence in the NMP policy making in Uganda. Methods: This was a case study design. Data was collected through review of documents and indepth interviews, using checklists and interview guides. Twenty-six (26) in-depth interviews were conducted with purposively selected national-level policy-makers, medicines programme managers, pharmaceutical sub-sector actors, pharmacy practitioners, researchers, civil society organizations, implementing partners and selected faculty from Universities. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed and entered in QSR Nvivo 11 software for coding and analysis following a deductive thematic content analysis approach. Findings: There was little evidence to suggest that research evidence was used in the development of the NMP. However, the process largely followed the guidelines for policy development issued by Government of Uganda. Respondents identified donor influence, existence of technical working groups, collaborations with research institutions, presence of research units within Ministry of Health, availability of research outputs, politics, and training opportunities, as key facilitating factors for utilization of research evidence in policy making processes. However, important barriers were identified as inadequate funding, politics, practice of relying on past experiences, policy making, donor interests, weak research infrastructure, inadequate opportunities for researcher-policy maker interactions, poor quality of research, poorly communicated research findings and lack of research translation skills among both researchers and policy makers. Conclusions: The process of formulating the NMP followed the traditional policy cycle though not linearly. However, utilization of research evidence for policy making is still inadequate due to factors pertinent to institutions, policymakers, researchers and environment of policy formulation. It is recommended that Government revises the policy making guidelines and make use of research evidence in policy processes mandatory. Researchers and policy makers should build sustainable collaboration platforms for sharing research outputs. Researchers, policy makers and implementers should exploit the opportunities presented by facilitating factors as well as jointly address the barriers to research evidence use in health policy development so as to inform interventions.