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Comic Relief and GSK
Research Report

New research published in the journal ‘BMJ Global Health’ reveals potential for Comic Relief and GSK malaria programmes to have lasting impact on the health systems in Tanzania and Sierra Leone

Research Report

New research funded by Comic Relief and global healthcare company GSK published recently in ‘BMJ Global Health’ revealed that programmes intended to reduce the spread of malaria can have a lasting impact on the strength of a country’s health system.

The study, carried out by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, examined four programmes funded by Comic Relief and GSK through their Fighting Malaria, Improving Health partnership. It found that “Disease-specific programmes and health system strengthening programmes are not mutually exclusive” and that if done in the right way could achieve both goals simultaneously.

The study welcomed the flexible approach taken by Comic Relief and GSK as funders, explaining that “donor flexibility to enable grantee responsiveness” was an important factor in achieving health system strengthening. Other important reasons the funding sought to foster a lasting impact on the health systems included:

  • Aligning the goals of the programme with national strategies and long-term agendas in the focus countries.

  • Working with organisations already embedded in local health systems who understood the political context and could respond to opportunities.

  • A focus on micro-innovation to improve the quality and uptake of existing services. The study recognised that the “practice of both the funder and the grantee organisations appears to be a key influence” on how a programme can impact the wider health system. It also found that setting realistic, achievable goals from the outset is an important determinant of success.

Lucie Graham, GSK Partnership Manager at Comic Relief said said,

“It is so encouraging to see the lasting impact that these programmes have had. When we set out on this journey with GSK, we wanted to reduce the spread of malaria, but we also wanted to leave behind sustainable improvements in the wider health system. The publication in BMJ Global Health confirming that our partners were able to achieve this in various ways is great news.

We are very proud of everything we’ve managed to achieve with GSK over the last five years. We’ve reached over 9 million people through improved access to public health information, testing and improved disease surveillance systems, and over 9000 health workers are now better equipped to control and treat malaria and other diseases in their communities. I hope other organisations can take inspiration from this partnership and use the findings in the BMJ study to inform the new programmes that are needed to fight malaria and strengthen health systems around the world”

Co-author of the research Dr Mohamed Bella Jalloh, said:

“It was an honour to contribute to this piece of work, which may be used to guide policy in my country and others with similar health systems. In Sierra Leone, many of the disease-specific programmes are occurring in silos. Working on this project reminds me that innovative strategies may be used to strengthen health systems in, even if a programme has a focus on a particular disease .”

Co-author of the research Dr Justin Pulford, Said

“Despite best intentions, development partners can undermine or disrupt national health systems when they prioritise specific diseases for funding support. What our study shows is that this does not need to be the case. It is possible to support disease-specific programmes and positively contribute to the broader health system if the programme funders and implementing partners adopt supportive approaches towards this end.”

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Comic Relief is the operating name of Charity Projects, a registered charity in England and Wales (326568) and Scotland (SC039730), which is a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales (01806414). Registered address: 1st Floor, 89 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7TP.