Enhance evidence uptake for pandemic readiness, response

It is essential to effectively apply knowledge and research findings in real-world contexts to inform decision-making, policy development, and practice. [iStockphoto]

The imperative to enhance evidence utilisation for pandemic preparedness and response is underscored by the global impact of pandemics, emphasising the crucial role of evidence and data in informing policies and shaping effective responses.

The East African Community (EAC) nations have encountered unparalleled challenges, necessitating a concerted effort to bolster evidence utilisation for future pandemic preparedness and response. In this context, a recent collaborative study conducted by the EAC Secretariat, Partner States, and experts from health and climate change institutions has shed light on the significance of knowledge management.

The study titled “Evidence utilisation for effective pandemic preparedness and response: Insights from the East African Community” emphasises the role of knowledge translation in managing pandemics.

Knowledge translation, also known as knowledge transfer or knowledge mobilisation, refers to the process of effectively applying knowledge and research findings in real-world contexts to inform decision-making, policy development, and practice.

During the West African Ebola outbreak, knowledge management systems facilitated the dissemination of prevention measures, treatment protocols, and valuable lessons learned. Similarly, during the H1N1 influenza pandemic, knowledge management platforms played a crucial role in disseminating guidelines, surveillance data, and research findings.

By fostering collaboration, enabling learning from experiences, and promoting evidence-based decision-making, knowledge management ensures efficient responses to health crises by providing stakeholders with up-to-date information, enhancing coordination, and facilitating the application of best practices.

A glaring concern arising from Covid-19 management is that epidemiological evidence played a critical role in comprehending the transmission dynamics, identifying risk factors, and implementing control measures.

It facilitated the characterisation of the virus, encompassing its mode of transmission, clinical manifestations, and factors contributing to severe outcomes. Additionally, surveillance systems provided crucial data on case numbers, hospitalisations, and mortality rates, aiding in the assessment of the pandemic’s magnitude and progression.

However, these approaches dismally failed to capture the full complexity of the pandemic’s impact as they primarily focused on the biomedical aspects, while overlooking the socioeconomic, cultural, and systemic factors contributing to vulnerability and disparities. Broader vulnerabilities such as pre-existing health conditions, socioeconomic inequalities, and unequal access to healthcare services, significantly influenced the differential impact of the pandemic on various population groups.

Social inequalities, including disparities in income, education, housing, and healthcare access, played a significant role in shaping the vulnerability and resilience of communities. These factors resulted in disparities in infection rates, severity of illness, and mortality outcomes. For instance, individuals from marginalised communities, low-income populations, and racial and ethnic minorities faced higher risks of exposure, limited access to healthcare, and increased barriers to implementing preventive measures.

These lessons necessitate the adoption of a more holistic and multidimensional approach that transcends the traditional epidemiological lens. A broader perspective should consider the social determinants of health, encompassing socioeconomic status, living conditions, education, employment, and access to healthcare. Such an approach requires the integration of insights from diverse disciplines, including social sciences, public health, and economics, to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes and consequences of the pandemic.

While social science research has yielded valuable knowledge regarding the societal context of pandemics, its impact on policy decisions has been limited. The lack of well-defined social metrics and clear connections to policy decisions impede the utilisation of this valuable research.

Although evidence platforms have emerged to consolidate multidisciplinary evidence, their impact on policy decisions has predominantly remained confined to academic discussions. Bridging the gap between social science research and policy decisions is crucial for enhancing evidence uptake during future pandemics.

One approach to improving evidence utilisation is through co-creation processes, exemplified by the EAC policy labs described in the study. These labs facilitate collaboration between policymakers, experts, and rapid evidence synthesis, ensuring that evidence meets policymakers’ specific needs. This collaborative approach enables a better understanding of policymakers’ perspectives and challenges, thereby facilitating the development of evidence-based solutions.

Furthermore, it is essential to strengthen the functionality of evidence hubs as central repositories for multidisciplinary evidence, facilitating accessibility for policymakers. User-friendly platforms and tools can empower policymakers to easily access and interpret research findings, leading to more informed decision-making.

Reducing the risks associated with incorporating evidence into policymaking is another critical consideration. Policymakers often face challenges in interpreting social science evidence due to a lack of skills and capacity. Developing clear social metrics and identifying best practices can be instrumental in reducing uncertainties and enabling policymakers to effectively utilise social science evidence.