In 2001, The Republics of Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania initiated consultations on how to improve the culture for evidence-informed health policy and close the know-do gap.
This was explored through a series of national and regional consultations and workshops with policy makers and researchers from the East African region in which a prospectus was developed describing a novel knowledge translation institutional mechanism that was so-named the Regional East African Community Health (REACH) Policy Initiative. This six-year process of consultation, reflection and analysis also led to the creation of the East African Health Research Commission (EAHRC), the institutional home for the REACH Policy Initiative. REACH was not operational until 2007 and built on the experience of the Tanzania Essential Health Interventions Project (TEHIP).
The Legal framework:
The East African Community (EAC) provides the legal framework for establishing the East African Health Research Commission through Article 118, on Health. Items B, E and F of the EAC Treaty. The REACH Policy Initiative is formally established within the EAHRC as per decisions of the 13th EAC Council of Ministers (EAC/CM 13/Decisions 46, 47, 48, 49, 50 and 51 and EAC/CM 13/Directive 20). As well, the objectives of the REACH Policy Initiative are embedded within the legal protocol of the EAHRC.
The Regional East African Community Health-Policy Initiative (REACH) is an institutional mechanism or ‘knowledge broker’ designed to link health researchers with policy-makers and other vital research-users. It connects these constituencies through shared and dynamic platforms that support, stimulate and harmonize evidence-based policymaking processes in East Africa.
While the need to bridge the realms of health research, policy and practice has been long recognized, never before had there been such a large-scale, systematic attempt to apply the idea of knowledge brokerage. The REACH-Policy Initiative was the world’s first regional attempt at knowledge translation using knowledge brokers. The initiative is an integrated institutional mechanism operating within the newly established East African Health Research Commission (EAHRC), which is a semi-autonomous institution of the East African Community (EAC).
The Evidence-Informed Policy Network (EVIPNet) built on the experience of REACH and was assisted by REACH in its establishment in both Asia and Africa. The two initiatives have worked collaboratively since 2005. Although similar initiatives are emerging in other countries, these initiatives are unique with respect to their focus on supporting governments in low and middle income countries to use research evidence for health policy decisions.
EVIPNet was launched in 2005 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministries of Health in several African, Asian and Latin American countries to promote the use of scientific evidence in health policy formulation. To achieve this, country or regional teams championed by health authorities are organized with key stakeholders, such as policy makers, researchers and representatives from other sectors (e.g. science & technology, education, civil society organizations, patient advocates, topic experts, local networks, etc.). These teams identify and address country priority topics where a perceived need to strengthen the systematic use of research evidence to inform decisions about policies for health has been identified. EVIPNet therefore includes components relevant to research and to development and is expected to help strengthen national health research systems.
A key collaboration between REACH and EVIPNet was the Supporting the Use of Research Evidence (SURE) project at Makerere University College of Health Sciences for strengthening health systems through the use of research evidence for decision making. EVIPNet Africa includes African partners such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central Africa, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Zambia and REACH covers the East African Partner States of Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and more recently, South Sudan.