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1.  The political undertones of building national health research systems – reflections from The Gambia 
In developing countries building national health research systems is a movement similar to a political leadership contest. Increasingly, political campaigns to select leaders depend less on ideologies and political messages and more on promising change that will promptly improve the quality of life of the voters. In this process the benefits and risks of every action and statement made by the candidates are carefully assessed.
Approaches currently promoted to strengthen health research within ministries of health in developing countries place emphasis on implementing logical steps towards building national health research systems including developing a national health research policy and strategic plan, conducting a situational analysis of research in the country, setting a national health research agenda, establishing research ethics and scientific committees, and building human and institutional capacity for health research management and conduct. Although these processes have successfully improved the standards of health research in some settings, many developing countries struggle to get the process going. One reason is that this approach does not deal with basic questions posed within a ministry of health, namely, "What is the political benefit of the ministry assuming control of the process?" and "What are the political implications for the ministry if another institution spearheads the process?"
Seen from the perspective of non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and donors trying to support the processes of strengthening national health research systems, one of the foremost activities that needs to be undertaken is to analyze the political context of national health research and, on that basis, plan and implement appropriate political health research advocacy initiatives. This includes the development of explicit messages on the political benefits to the leadership in the ministry of health of their role in the conduct, management and dissemination of health research within the country. Civil society organizations, with links to both government and non-governmental organizations, are well placed to play the role of advocates.
It is only through broad and active participation of stakeholders that the process of developing effective and sustainable national health research systems will truly become a national movement inspired, led and sustained by ministries of health.
doi:10.1186/1478-4505-7-13
PMCID: PMC2693112  PMID: 19476660
2.  Changes in malaria indices between 1999 and 2007 in The Gambia: a retrospective analysis 
Lancet  2008;372(9649):1545-1554.
Summary
Background
Malaria is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Africa. International effort and funding for control has been stepped up, with substantial increases from 2003 in the delivery of malaria interventions to pregnant women and children younger than 5 years in The Gambia. We investigated the changes in malaria indices in this country, and the causes and public-health significance of these changes.
Methods
We undertook a retrospective analysis of original records to establish numbers and proportions of malaria inpatients, deaths, and blood-slide examinations at one hospital over 9 years (January, 1999–December, 2007), and at four health facilities in three different administrative regions over 7 years (January, 2001–December, 2007). We obtained additional data from single sites for haemoglobin concentrations in paediatric admissions and for age distribution of malaria admissions.
Findings
From 2003 to 2007, at four sites with complete slide examination records, the proportions of malaria-positive slides decreased by 82% (3397/10861 in 2003 to 337/6142 in 2007), 85% (137/1259 to 6/368), 73% (3664/16932 to 666/11333), and 50% (1206/3304 to 336/1853). At three sites with complete admission records, the proportions of malaria admissions fell by 74% (435/2530 to 69/1531), 69% (797/2824 to 89/1032), and 27% (2204/4056 to 496/1251). Proportions of deaths attributed to malaria in two hospitals decreased by 100% (seven of 115 in 2003 to none of 117 in 2007) and 90% (22/122 in 2003 to one of 58 in 2007). Since 2004, mean haemoglobin concentrations for all-cause admissions increased by 12 g/L (85 g/L in 2000–04 to 97 g/L in 2005–07), and mean age of paediatric malaria admissions increased from 3·9 years (95% CI 3·7–4·0) to 5·6 years (5·0–6·2).
Interpretation
A large proportion of the malaria burden has been alleviated in The Gambia. Our results encourage consideration of a policy to eliminate malaria as a public-health problem, while emphasising the importance of accurate and continuous surveillance.
Funding
UK Medical Research Council.
doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61654-2
PMCID: PMC2607025  PMID: 18984187
3.  Antenatal care in The Gambia: Missed opportunity for information, education and communication 
Background
Antenatal care is widely established and provides an opportunity to inform and educate pregnant women about pregnancy, childbirth and care of the newborn. It is expected that this would assist the women in making choices that would contribute to good pregnancy outcome. We examined the provision of information and education in antenatal clinics from the perspective of pregnant women attending these clinics.
Methods
A cross sectional survey of 457 pregnant women attending six urban and six rural antenatal clinics in the largest health division in The Gambia was undertaken. The women were interviewed using modified antenatal client exit interview and antenatal record review questionnaires from the WHO Safe Motherhood Needs Assessment kit. Differences between women attending urban and rural clinics were assessed using the Chi-square test. Relative risks with 95% confidence intervals are presented.
Results
Ninety percent of those interviewed had attended the antenatal clinic more than once and 52% four or more times. Most pregnant women (70.5%) said they spent 3 minutes or less with the antenatal care provider. About 35% recalled they were informed or educated on diet and nutrition, 30.4% on care of the baby, 23.6% on family planning, 22.8% on place of birth and 19.3% on what to do if there was a complication.
About 25% of pregnant women said they were given information about the progress of their pregnancy after consultation and only 12.8% asked their provider any question. Awareness of danger signs was low. The proportions of women that recognised signs of danger were 28.9% for anaemia, 24.6% for hypertension, 14.8% for haemorrhage, 12.9% for fever and 5% for puerperal sepsis. Prolonged labour was not recognised as a danger sign. Women attending rural antenatal clinics were 1.6 times more likely to recognise signs of anaemia and hypertension as indicative of danger compared to women attending urban antenatal clinics.
Conclusion
Information, education and communication during antenatal care in the largest health division are poor. Pregnant women are ill-equipped to make appropriate choices especially when they are in danger. This contributes to the persistence of high maternal mortality ratios in the country.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-8-9
PMCID: PMC2322944  PMID: 18325122

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