The George Institute hosts India’s first Rapid Evidence Synthesis Unit in collaboration with NHSRC

First-of-its kind three day workshop on rapid evidence synthesis being held in Delhi from Aug 19 to 21. 

The George Institute for Global Health, India (TGI) in collaboration with the National Health Systems Resource Centre (NHSRC), and with support from WHO Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, has established India’s first Rapid Evidence Synthesis (RES) unit. The goal is to provide RES products that are rigorous, unbiased, and developed on-demand through continuous engagement with stakeholders.

To ensure that health policy makers and systems managers have capacity to carry out evidence synthesis, the unit organised the first of a series of workshops which began in the Capital on August 19.  Dr Anju Sinha, Scientist-F and Deputy Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), delivered the inaugural address. Apart from faculty members drawn from The George Institute India, Dr Shalu Jain from the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, was also one of the workshop facilitators. 

The workshop included over 15 participants from ICMR headquarters, Regional Medical Research Centre (RMRC) Odisha, Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) Delhi, State Health Systems Resource Centres (SHSRC) of Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. The trainers/facilitators from the TGI-RES unit included Dr Devaki Nambiar, Dr Soumyadeep Bhaumik, Dr Sandeep Moola and Ms Priyanka Shah.

RES is a pragmatic and efficient approach that provides a summary of the best available research evidence, contextualised to suit the requirements of decision making. This is done by process and methodological tailoring as per the actual requirements for decision making in a time- sensitive and cost- effective manner. RES outputs are rapid reviews, which can be done in four to 12 weeks, and rapid policy briefs, which can be produced in two to four weeks.

“There is a need for policy makers and researchers to develop evidence informed health policies, which would involve collaboration between evidence synthesis units such as the TGI-RES and the National and State health system resource centres,” said Dr Rajani Ved, Executive Director, National Health Systems Resource Centre.

Experiences in India and abroad demonstrate that evidence can improve health outcomes, help balance competing demands of various stakeholders, and ensure accountability and transparency, as well as build citizen trust in the decision-making process.

For this to happen, evidence has to be synthesised, meaning, for a particular topic, available research knowledge across multiple studies has to systematically be put together. This is known as evidence synthesis, which takes into account the quality of studies compiled and assesses the strength of findings across them. Evidence synthesis takes a lot of time to carry out but of course is more likely to be relevant, and used, when it is produced in a timely fashion. This is where Rapid Evidence Synthesis comes into the picture.

“Health systems managers and policy makers - at national, state or district levels - have to make important, life-saving decisions. Deciding what interventions to implement in what setting, what challenges to anticipate and how to address them, is routine in a decision maker’s life. Relevant and contextualised research evidence can inform decision makers as they put plans in place to improve coverage, quality and efficiency, all the time keeping equity in perspective,” says Devaki Nambiar, Program Head, Health Systems and Equity, The George Institute India. 

The workshop is designed to introduce participants to the concept of evidence-informed health policy decision making, evidence synthesis including rapid evidence synthesis and the various tools and resources to aid the conduct of rapid evidence synthesis products. This program takes an interdisciplinary approach drawing on state of the art international norms and standards to identify the best available evidence and stakeholder needs. At the conclusion of this program, participants will be skilled in promoting and supporting the adoption of rapid evidence synthesis in health policy decision-making.

This comes in the wake of an in-country training workshop held at the NHSRC from June 18 to 20 2019 conducted by Dr Ismael Kawooya and Mr. Edward Kayongo from The Center for Rapid Evidence Synthesis, Makerere University, Uganda. The center has been active for almost a decade and has been supporting various government ministries through research evidence to inform health policy and systems decision making.

In April 2019, TGI organised a National Consultation on RES for health systems and policy decision-making on the sidelines of a National Symposium on Evidence Synthesis in Medicine, Public Health, and Social Development. During the consultation The George Institute India disseminated its first rapid evidence policy brief on multi-level health providers as well as introduced the concept of RES, its potential utility and received feedback.