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Informing public health professionals: Viet Nam case study part 1

Article discussing how to transmit relevant information to public health professionals
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To examine how research impacts policy-making and what lessons we have learnt as scientists and policymakers from the pandemic, we are going to focus over the next 2 steps on a case study from Viet Nam’s Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU). In the first part of this case study, we will think about how scientific evidence is used to inform policy.

OUCRU, with more than 30-year experience in conducting health research in Viet Nam, has set a new vision of having a local, regional, and global impact on health by leading a locally driven research programme on infectious diseases in Southeast Asia.

By reviewing Ministry of Health guidelines, case studies and conducting interviews with key stakeholders, the team at OUCRU were able to begin to understand the policy development processes, how to use evidence in decision-making, challenges and opportunities to policy and research engagement, as well as how to improve engagement between policymakers and research communities.

OUCRU found several factors that increased the likelihood of policymakers’ accepting research findings including the timeliness of research, the relevance of topics, accessibility of research results, unequivocal nature of findings, quality of research methods and long-term trusted collaborations.

Apart from government officials and local authorities, other key informants like international organisations, local non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, or activists also had a role in each step of the policy development process. For advocacy approaches to be successful they needed researchers to build their capacity and understanding of policy processes, to engage early with policymakers and over the whole course of a study, and use explicit and systematic advocacy approaches and engage in frequent communication.

Policy development in Viet Nam is continuous with scientists and management institutions participating in the process. In the past ten years, improvements in how genomic evidence is used, and the involvement of scientists, have resulted in better application of research results into health care and public health practice. Policy development was fast and Viet Nam had better access to updated information globally. However, obstacles still existed: time pressure, lack of information, limited capacity, and lack of standard procedures for policy development caused difficulties in the policy formulation process.

Policies in Viet Nam were found to be evidence-informed but influenced by other considerations such as contextual factors and available resources. Policymakers selected evidence for decision-making based on the strength of evidence, the quality of research studies, the appropriateness with the context of Viet Nam, and the source of evidence.

However, the engagement between researchers and policymakers is not particularly close in Viet Nam. The two communities saw things differently and had different priorities. Researchers’ unwillingness to share data, policymakers’ time constraints and high rate of staff turnover were commonly mentioned as obstacles.

Does this process reflect what happens in your country? Do you think policy is, or should be, mostly evidence-informed? Is there anything else that needs to be considered when making policy? How can we improve the ways in which research informs policy?

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