Infectious disease research investments follow colonial ties: questionable ethics

Joseph R Fitchett, Michael G Head, Rifat Atun
International Health 2014, 6 (1): 74-6

BACKGROUND: International funding for global health research is not systematically documented. We have assessed the level of research funding awarded by UK funders of international research to low- and middle-income countries or research institutions in these countries.

METHODS: We analysed 6165 studies; from these we selected 522 that matched our criteria and used them to evaluate research funding by pathogen, disease, research and development value chain, funding organisation and country.

RESULTS: Investment in infectious disease research in the countries studied totalled £264 million. Distribution of research investments closely mirrored that of the UK's former colonial territories; the top five countries, and eight of the top 10, have historical links with the UK, being current or former members of the Commonwealth of Nations. HIV, malaria and neglected tropical diseases attracted the greatest investment (£219 million; 82.8%), with most studies focussing on operational and epidemiological research (£109 million; 41.3%).

CONCLUSIONS: International financing of infectious disease research by UK funding organisations follows former colonial ties. Funding institutions should review their funding policies to ensure that they also assist low- and middle-income countries without colonial ties to address their disease burden. A global investment surveillance system is needed to map and monitor funding for international research and guide the allocation of scarce resources to reduce the global disease burden.

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