Building sustainable operational research capacity in Pakistan: starting with tuberculosis and expanding to other public health problems
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Background: For many years, operational research capacity has been a challenge and has remained a low priority for the health sector in Pakistan. Building research capacity for developing a critical mass of researchers in Pakistan was done through Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT) courses in Paris and Asia between 2010 and 2016. Objective: The aim of this paper is to describe the journey of SORT-IT in Pakistan from its inception to progressive expansion and discuss the challenges and ways forward. Methods: The journey began with the training of the Pakistan NTP research team lead in 2010 in an international SORT IT course at Paris. This was followed by training of two team members in Asia SORT IT courses in 2014 and 2015. These three then worked together to conceive and implement the first national Pakistan SORT IT course supported by WHO/TDR and the Global Fund in 2016. This was facilitated by international facilitators and local trained SORT-IT participants from Paris and Asia. This was followed by two further national SORT IT courses in 2017 and 2018. Results: Between 2010 and 2017, a total of 34 participants from Pakistan had been enrolled in national and international SORT IT courses. Of the 23 participants from completed courses, 18(78%) successfully completed the course. In total 18 papers were submitted and up until June 2018, 15(83%) have been published and 21 institutions in Pakistan involved with operational research as a result of the SORT IT initiative. Conclusions: The SORT IT course has been an effective way to build operational research capacity at national level and this has resulted in a large number of published papers providing local evidence for decision making on TB and other disease control programmes. The experience from Pakistan should stimulate other countries to adopt the SORT-IT model.