ICMR and ICSSR sign MoU to ensure health research benefits all
It took almost two decades for the country’s top medical body to understand the importance of social profiling in providing efficient healthcare. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) on May 29 signed a memorandum of understanding to ensure that health research carried out benefits all strata of the society in the country.
The idea about such collaboration was first floated in 1978 in the backdrop of the Alma Ata Declaration, which identified primary health care as the key to the attainment of the goal of Health for All.
Then in India, ICMR and ICSSR formed a joint panel. “But the earlier panel lost momentum down the line and there was a need to reinvent the collaborative effort,” says Sukhdeo S Thorat, chairman of ICCSR. The new five-year-long MoU will look for ways to ensure that everyone has access to health. He added that while knowledge creation will be a main focus of this collaboration, they will also try to focus on policy research. One important aspect of health-social science research is to study societal behavior and find out what socio-cultural forces are at play when it comes to adoption of new bio-medical products.
Health is closely related to food habits and cultural life of communities. There are certain diseases that are endemic to certain regions. Like, rural populations in the Chandrapur district in Maharashtra suffer from sickle-cell anaemia.
Under the new agreement, a joint committee comprising of top scientists from the two agencies will meet in the next few months and chalk out a programme which will address socio-cultural issues in healthcare. The agreement will forge research on a regional level, wherein ICMR and ICSSR in particular states will investigate local health issues and cultural forces impacting them. The two agencies will also look at why some states are able to utilise money earmarked for healthcare and make progress, while others lag behind. Some of the important areas of research for the two agencies would include universal access to healthcare. Thorat also emphasised the need for public-public partnerships between government institutes. “Health is a multi-disciplinary issue, and we need to join forces to figure out solutions”. Giving an example, he said acceptance of new methods in the treatment of HIV/AIDS is woefully low.
V M Katoch, director general of ICMR, said, “This research will have important implications for clinical trials.” There are numerous instances of people being fooled by clinical research organisations. They are poor, and in need, and more gullible and vulnerable to such crimes. “There is a need to understand and figure out how these people can be made more aware of their rights,” he says. Clinical trial ethics are flouted in India on a large scale, wherein people are lured into trials of unapproved drugs, often succumbing to ailments caused by these drugs. Katoch added that the MoU would have important implications for the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). He said that Health for All had first made a mention of peripheral social health workers, which are now known as Accredited Soical Health Workers (ASHAs) and are an integral part of the rural health mission.
Professor K R Nayar at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, is one of the people who were instrumental in bringing about this MoU. Speaking to Down to Earth, he said the first thing on the agenda would be to take a look at all the research that integrates social science and health research. “There is a lot of relevant research going on in universities, being done by masters and doctoral students. We need to assimilate all the information and see what is being done and where the gaps lie.” He added, “We want to study what forces stop people from deriving healthcare. At the same time, we will also look at futuristic topics like the impact of climate change on health.” Environmental sanitation and mother-and-child issues will also be top priority for the collaborative effort.
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