I read the points raised by Valéry Ridde concerning funding for global health research (in his January 15 opinion piece) with interest. Rest assured that the future of young researchers in this field is of great importance to the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which derives its strength in part from its Canadian scholarship and grant recipients who are working to create solid, equitable, and well-managed health systems.
This is why we continue to award scholarships and research grants to Canadian global health researchers: 18 are currently conducting research worth $7 million, while 14 doctoral students have benefited from scholarships for their work in this field between 2015 and 2017. Grants worth $21.5 million also support 30 Canadian researchers working in the fields of medicine, nutrition, immunization, and other health-related areas.
We do not have a policy that prevents us from funding postdoctoral fellows and young researchers. Moreover, we have provided $10 million in funding to the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship Program for doctoral, postdoctoral and early-career researchers. These scholarships are awarded in Canada as well as in low- and middle-income countries. Of the 130 Canadian recipients, 18 will be researching topics related to global health.
Nonetheless, we share Dr. Ridde’s concern regarding the uncertain future of young Canadian researchers working in global health. It is rare that they receive the role of lead investigator when they contend with senior researchers in each competition. The precariousness of early-career researchers indicates a need for national dialogue that could help strengthen the foundation for global health research in Canada.
IDRC’s health programming has always incorporated student capacity building into its grant criteria. For example, 60 students are involved in the research of the Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa program – funded by IDRC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and Global Affairs Canada – one-third of whom are enrolled at Canadian universities.
IDRC’s primary mandate is to invest in knowledge and innovation to drive large-scale positive change in developing countries. To this end, the research we fund must be rooted in the local context and not externally managed. It goes without saying that the majority of our resources are directed to researchers affiliated with institutions in developing countries – who are typically fully capable of managing these research funds or who could do so with targeted support. It is these very leaders of today and tomorrow who will identify and implement lasting improvements that benefit their countries. These principles guide us not only in global health, but also in our other fields of work, including food security, employment for women and youth, and technology and innovation.
The eligibility criteria for our research grants are clearly stated and any proposal received in response to a call is peer-reviewed by an international selection committee. Spontaneous proposals are also reviewed according to a rigorous and well-documented process.
The book Healthy Lives for Vulnerable Women and Children is based on 15 years of research on health systems and 165 research projects. We described approximately 25 projects in the book and, wishing to be succinct, we had to limit ourselves to mentioning the institutions that were home to the lead investigators.
We would be pleased to participate in a dialogue to help overcome the lack of consultation in the global health field in Canada and to address the criteria for recruiting and promoting researchers in universities. Our knowledge of the practices adopted by some developing country universities, such as the recognition of community involvement as a criterion for promotion, would serve to strengthen these discussions.
Jean Lebel is president of the International Development Research Centre.