By Mary Hearty

Kenya has launched a five-year national agenda (2022-2027) to guide all players within the reproductive health research (RHR) space in the country, and improve the coordination of research and programmatic activities.

The RHR agenda confirms country’s remarkable effort towards improving citizens’ ability to understand various reproductive health (RH) needs from a new-born to senior citizenry, attributable to ever increasing life expectancy.

The priority area in the agenda are: health system research priorities; adolescents’ and young people’s reproductive health; maternal and new-born health; family planning and infertility; and cross-cutting reproductive health priorities.

Speaking during the launch, Dr Bashir Issak, Head of the Department of Family Health at Kenya’s Ministry of Health on behalf of Dr Patrick Amoth, Acting Director General for Health in the Ministry of Health said every individual has the right to make their own choices about their sexual and reproductive health based on sound information on ethical and professional research.

“Research that gives answers for people and does not use the knowledge generated to improve the health or prevent harm to the source population deviates from their best practice hence should be discouraged,” Dr Issak stated.

Dr Bashir Issak, HOD, Family Health at the Ministry of Health

For many years, the Ministry of Health has been concerned about the quality of healthcare as it is the single most observed link to poor maternal health outcomes in the country. Therefore, Dr Issak said this agenda seeks urgent answers on the determinants of ideal quality of care on scientific value addition, in our reproductive health systems for quality service delivery.

“We’re also aligned to the fact that Kenyans continue to demand for evidence-based interventions for addressing health outcomes. We need answers to eliminate our restriction review, teenage pregnancies, and child practices, among others,” Dr Issak explained.

Coordination of research in RH will ensure that the priorities at the national level will be at the top of research agenda to give answers to the precise reporting challenges of immediate concern.

The agenda will also reduce duplication of efforts in various RH areas, resulting in a more prudent use of resources, he said noting that currently, a lot of resources are expended in Kenya under technical urge of research every year. “It is a significant investment that requires harnessing to improve the reproductive health research in Kenya to resonate with the need of the population and discourage some foreign research exploits in the basis of the country’s resources.”

Furthermore, he said stewardship and close monitoring are needed to ensure synergy, efficiency and accountability for the benefit of all Kenyans, including the Kenyan researcher. “This agenda therefore operationalizes the Kenyan policy that RH interventions be tested, tried and found effective in the Kenyan context before implementation.”

The agenda also addresses the noble gap where evidence is generated but is not used to form the policy or contribute to interventions that improve lives. In addition, it optimizes research resources to address the nation’s RH priorities identified as determinants of ideal quality of care and scientific value addition.

Dr Issak pointed out that what is launched is just a document so, it is by embracing it and implementing it that it becomes an agenda.

The Ministry of Health called upon research institutions to invest in this and future priority agenda; and look in both undergraduate and postgraduate students to embrace seeking answers to the priority issues affecting the RH of Kenyans.

Dr Issak noted that nations that are mature and have matured health systems to address the needs of their population have prioritized and invested in contextualized research to address the needs of their people. “This is a moment to shift gears in strengthening Kenya’s service delivery system through addressing pressing research needs,” he said.

Dr Phelgona Otieno, Principal Research Officer at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) on behalf of Dr Samuel Kariuki, Director General at KEMRI expressed her excitement about the launch of the RHR agenda, noting that as the key consumers of human research, the agenda is game-changing in RHR.

Calling for the need to allocate more funding to implement the agenda, she said: “We can have this promising agenda but if we do not have funding, it will just remain in the books. It is very important that we push for adequate funding because research is not for the faint-hearted and is not for little money. We need to set aside good money to have this research agenda implemented.”