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2021: Way forward in health research

Year 2021 would be the implementation year of lessons learnt in 2020. The world continues to grapple with a grave health crisis due to the novel coronavirus epidemic, which started in Hubei province of China in late December in 2019. Last year medical research saw new advancements made in unusual time-frame. All the scientists globally moved forward with a single agenda of outpacing the deadly virus. The scientists at Indian Council of Medical Research have played a critical role in providing multi-pronged solutions to tackle this pandemic. They have contributed enormously in plethora of areas starting from isolating the virus to development of novel diagnostic methods to setting up a vast network of COVID-19 testing to rolling out a fully indigenous vaccine. Due to all the efforts put in by scientific fraternity, today we are moving ahead with mass vaccinations with a hope to return to the old normal ways. The gold standard of bringing revolutionary solutions in medical research has been revised and 2020 has set new timelines to bring about changes and finding solutions to other health challenges that are hovering over Indian population.

Agenda setting for 2021 has been formalized. India has been envisioned as a global leader in health research in near future. Collaborations are the demand of the moment. The recently established RESEARCH-Regional Enabler for South East Asia Research Collaboration for Health platform in collaboration with 10 countries of South-Asian region, will work to effectively combat emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases in South East Asia region. Efforts are needed toward making the nation bio-secure and keeping check on cross-border transmissions.

Also, now the time demands to move vigorously toward meeting the target of disease elimination and fighting malnutrition. The valuation of research needs to be assessed by the scale of impact it has made in the lives of common man. Investment in health research that results in equitable outcomes for the Indian nationals would be encouraged. Lessons learnt during COVID-19 fight could be used to plan the fight against these age-old health problems. The strengthened health research infrastructure would be utilized to find affordable and sustainable solutions to end TB by 2025 and malaria by 2030. Implementation research is an important area to lookout for. It would ensure that the tools available in the fight against the deadly diseases are efficiently and effectively utilized. With a view to strengthen the national health programs and the health systems, a periodic gap analysis and research priority setting for the national and state health programs is required. By working closely with the national and state health systems, special demonstration projects will be designed in identified priority areas.

The emerging scourge of non-communicable diseases including diabetes, hypertension, cancers, and mental illnesses, needs to be addressed proactively using the effective tools of biomedical research and create national paradigms to meet this challenge. It is paramount to use the information generated by research activities, to improve performance of health systems at the national level. For this, output of research must balance its eventual utility. There should be a framework wherein translation of health research into health policy and practice is conceptualized from the inception stage itself, with research being a programmatic imperative and driven by operational needs. To this extent, the issues and constraints confronted should be identified and strategies evolved to address them in consultation, and guided by the principal stakeholders, rather than reactively after commencement of research. Special focus needs to be given on development of smart technology and data platforms. Availability of real-time data portals are of paramount importance for disease surveillance and response planning. Creation of a pipeline for seamless inflow of data and information is envisioned for better preparedness and response.

To sum up the way forward, the major focus points are addressing the gaps in health research with correct approach, working in mission mode and designing projects that are scientifically strong and could be brought to logical end and utilized to better the public health of the nation. We are committed toward addressing the health challenges of the nation and have aligned our research priorities accordingly.

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