Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-499)|
9 JUNE 2004
Q480 Chairman: Who was responsible for
Professor Maudlin: There were
governance problems. Whose problem was it? Was it a Ugandan problem?
Was it a Kenyan problem? Then, of course, they would each have
different solutions to the problem although they were using a
common source. Then there was a lot of competition and bidding
for who was going to solve the problem. It turned out to be solved
very effectively in the end by an introduced beetle which dealt
with it. In fact it was a cheap solution which worked in the end.
The big machines which were introduced to munch it up just caused
a problem with snakes for the people who were involved with it.
Chairman: I must meet you outside this
Q481 Dr Turner: My colleague has already
referred to DFID's new research strategy. What are your views
on the choice of four central themes? Do you think they are the
right themesagricultural productivity in Africa, diseases,
states working in the interests of the poor and climate change?
Are these the right priorities? More importantly, do you think
that the research strategy is going to approach those priorities
in the right way?
Professor Maudlin: First of all
I would ask, what are we doing here? We are talking about British
research, and then we have to ask ourselves what can British research
contribute that other countries cannot? As I said in my submission,
there are five areas where we are better than the rest of the
world. These are pharmacology, agriculture, veterinary science,
pure maths, mineral and mining engineering. All the rest of them
the Americans do better than we do, much better in fact. We have
to ask ourselves are we going to be just generally throwing small
amounts of money into a pond and having no effect or are we going
to play to our strengths? I suggest we do the latter and add something
significant to the international research effort rather than blundering
about in the dark putting in a little bit of money here, a little
bit of money there. We should focus.
Professor Haines: From the health
perspective I think that many of the topics are along the right
lines. I would say that the UK is also very strong in a range
of health research areas, including clinical trials, for example,
including in low income countries. In health systems research
I would say we are very strong, and if you look at the US there
is not the same reputation, if I can say that, for health systems
researchers in North America. We are very strong in epidemiology.
In communicable disease epidemiology, for example, there have
been very important contributions from UK researchers. I would
say that there are a number of important areas in which UK research
is certainly amongst the best in the world and is very widely
respected. Some of the details need fleshing out. I come back
again to the issue of capacity building as an important area because
if we want to ensure that there is an indigenous research capacity
in the next 20 years then investment will have to be long term.
Some of these institutions in low income countries are barely
functioning at all and they have been starved of resources for
many years. Some international agencies have taken a much longer
term view than DFID in terms of research capacity strengthening
and if we want to create an autonomous research capacity in low
income countries that is one of the things that needs to be addressed
in the research strategy. Many UK institutions are prepared and
committed to help but at the moment, as I said previously, there
is very little incentive for us to do that, both in terms of the
research assessment exercise and in terms of our own research
programme. I would hope that we can integrate within some of these
important research areas a strong capacity building component.
Q482 Dr Turner: Your memorandum called
for a UK policy research forum involving both government and non-governmental
members to conduct a dialogue about research efforts and obviously
promote co-ordination of those efforts. Do you think that the
proposed Funders' Forum announced in DFID's research strategy
could fulfil that function? Do you know whether DFID intends to
ensure that developing countries' views are adequately represented
in that forum?
Professor Haines: I do not know
precisely what they have in mind but as I understand it the Funders'
Forum that they are proposing could cover many of the functions
that we have proposed in our submission so we were quite glad
to see that specifically referred to. Certainly there is a need
to draw together expertise and strategic insights across the UK
in terms of research funding. On a global scale WHO clearly has
an important role in terms of co-ordinating health research and
one which, as a member of the WHO's Advisory Committee on Health
Research, I hope to see strengthened in the coming years. There
is a need for global co-ordination around health research but
also, because the UK is such an important player in development
research, this UK Funders' Forum seems to me to have some of the
essential characteristics of the body we propose.
Q483 Dr Turner: Have any of you been
invited to join?
Mr Winterton: There is a specifically
health related Funders' Forum being formed between the Wellcome
Trust, the MRC and DFID focusing on health issues to try and ensure
improved co-ordination in relation to UK research funders, so
that is, if you like, already being launched at the moment and
we are actively involved in getting that off the ground.
Q484 Dr Turner: Professor Maudlin, you
memorandum seems quite positive about the virtues of PPP arrangements.
You may have heard in the previous evidence session that there
were somewhat different views from engineers on that. Do you think
that DFID is well placed to judge when a PPP is in the interests
of the people in developing countries? What advice has DFID sought
from you on this? Do you think they have enough commercial nous,
if you like, to be able to make them work properly anyway?
Professor Maudlin: DFID have consulted
with me about wanting to set up a PPP for animal vaccines. They
have trawled the knowledge base now quite widely for advice both
with professional consultants interested and experienced in setting
up PPPs and with the private sector. The private sector in animal
health is very small so it is very easy to get advice from them.
There are about five big players. Of course, consultations with
the developing world are the next important step. This is in its
infancy, of course. It has not been set up yet. My enthusiasm
for it stems from the fact that it should provide a boost to the
funding given to the overall problems of animal health in the
tropics which, I have to say, are mainly in Africa. Again, we
come back to the problem of Africa and sustainability. The animal
health research institutes in Africa which exist are basically
falling apart at the seams because of lack of funding. Ondesdepoort
in South Africa, which is a very high level institution, is haemorrhaging
Q485 Chairman: Which ones are falling
Professor Maudlin: Ondesdepoort
in South Africa, which was a major institution, is haemorrhaging
staff, for obvious political reasons.
Q486 Chairman: There are others?
Professor Maudlin: Yes. The ITC
(International tolerance Centre) in The Gambia is struggling because
of lack of funding.
Q487 Mr McWalter: We have had evidence
from Professor David Bradley from the London School of Hygiene
and Tropical Medicine who says " . . . there is a need for
the UK to fully accept responsibility for maintaining its own
expertise and so its ability to help effectively". I do not
quite know what you think the expertise is, Professor Maudlin,
but do you agree with that?
Professor Maudlin: Yes. I think
I said earlier that it is in our own interests to do that in the
sphere of animal health. We would be foolish not to.
Q488 Mr McWalter: But you have only laid
out five areas that we are any good at and let the Americans do
Professor Maudlin: I was quoting
from an article in Nature.
Q489 Mr McWalter: It is much easier,
is it not, to keep the expertise in a very small number of areas
than to keep the expertise for dealing with the problem in the
Professor Maudlin: Yes.
Q490 Mr McWalter: Whose responsibility
is it to maintain the UK capacity for research in international
Professor Maudlin: It is the responsibility
of those with the money.
Q491 Mr McWalter: So about 50 players,
all of whom have five bits of tiny pots who will not be ableyou
are spending your whole life trying to get the money and you never
actually get to deal with the problems? Is that right?
Professor Maudlin: I would not
put it as dismally as that.
Q492 Mr McWalter: It is very cosy sitting
round in meetings rather than going out and trying to solve the
problems, is it not? Is that how people end up?
Professor Haines: I would like
to see DFID taking more responsibility for this area.
Q493 Mr McWalter: Thank you. That is
what I was after.
Professor Haines: If we do not
have a robust and resilient research infrastructure in the UK
that will support development research then inevitably our policies
will suffer as a result. Just to buy in consultants in the very
short term to advise you on a specific issue is not the answer.
You need long term strategic relationships with people who understand
research and how to use research findings. There needs to be a
receptor capacity at DFID level and we need to have long term
Q494 Mr McWalter: So whenever we need
co-ordination DFID goes missing; is that right?
Professor Haines: I would like
to see stronger co-ordination. I also think that the Funders'
Forum that Nick referred to could play an important role in this.
Chairman: Why do we not just have an
Overseas Development Research Council where the political situation
is addressed in a serious way rather than providing it in a very
unco-ordinated way? Would that not be a very simplistic answer?
You put the money in, people bid, you have a strategy, you have
a programme. It happens in another arena.
Mr McWalter: And they work with MRC and
all the other agencies to co-ordinate engineering and medicine
Q495 Chairman: And we put it in the London
School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine on the top floor in a
Professor Maudlin: I think they
would be delighted.
Q496 Chairman: What do you think, Ian
Maudlin? Too radical for Great Britain?
Professor Maudlin: It is a good
idea. I think some co-ordination of the overall effort is necessary.
Q497 Chairman: Is this the only way to
get it, do you think, or will we be here in 10 years' time?
Professor Maudlin: It would depend
how that was set up and how it was funded, and it would depend
on the money stream. Would it be sustainable? Would they give
you three years to do this in and then say, "That is the
end of that. Forget about it and all go home"?
Mr McWalter: It might give you a five
star on a research and assessment exercise because they would
know what they were assessing. That would be a start.
Q498 Dr Iddon: How much guidance do you
get from the World Health Organisation on your input into diseases
in overseas countries?
Professor Haines: Our staff do
a great deal of work with the WHO. As mentioned previously, I
am a member of the Advisory Committee on Health Research. At the
moment WHO is reviewing its whole strategy around health research.
It has had a slightly unclear position up to now. In part it has
been doing research, in part it has seen itself as a user of research
findings, in part it has seen itself as a translator and disseminator
of research findings. My own view is that WHO should largely be
focusing on trying to find out what the global research priorities
are in health, ensuring that health findings are properly utilised
and ensuring that the findings are disseminated out to ministries
and to the countries where they can be effectively used.
Q499 Chairman: I put it to you that without
a Development Research Council you are floating in the wind.
Professor Haines: I think the
proposal for a Development Research Council is a very interesting
one. My concern, I suppose, would be that it is a multi-disciplinary
area. Could one really encompass within one research council expertise
across engineering, health, social sciences and so on?