7. Economic Approaches to Valuing Global Health Research

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Abstract

Royalty-Free/Corbis

Health research has contributed enormously to advancing health and welfare globally. While health research aimed at addressing problems in high–income countries may continue to benefit lower–income countries, this "trickle–down" method is not the most efficient way to produce knowledge that will be applied to the particular health challenges of lower–income populations. Instead, a rational approach to health research is needed that takes into account both the value of health in developing nations and the allocation of resources for scientific research.

Health research is considered valuable insofar as it is tied to improvements in health and productivity, to decreases in medical costs, and to a greater ability to plan for the future because of improved health. For example, the link between reductions in childhood infectious diseases and increased life expectancy suggests the value of research that yielded such innovations as childhood immunizations. Moreover, public health efforts, such as improved sanitation, that were developed primarily with the needs of lower–income countries in mind show the value of research targeted to these populations.

A number of strategies to assess the value of research are being employed to meet the challenge of global health research priority setting, including value–of–information techniques that weigh the uncertainty regarding health outcomes in order to estimate the expected value of the research. Providing researchers and policy makers in both low–income and high–income countries with the analytical tools to identity important opportunities for research may increase the level and effectiveness of spending for health research throughout the world.