The Medical Research Council (MRC) is reassessing its research priorities as it moves to tackle its declining scientific stature and to achieve greater effect on improving health in South Africa.
The agency said on Friday that it had started a revitalising process in April in light of its funding constraints. Government funding increases for the MRC averaged 3.5% over the last four years, while inflation stood at 6% and costs of medical research continued to escalate.
“MRC’s funding crunch has in-turn compromised research in medical schools and hospitals due to a lack of research funding to universities by the MRC,” the council said in a statement.
One of the issues flagged, espcially in light of the funding constraints, was the lack of rational prioritsation and the duplication of in-house research.
The MRC is devoting resources to in-house research in some areas that have not featured among the common causes of ill health, while it has no in-house research unit on pneumonia or diarrhoea – the two most important causes of death in children.
The agency, which drew up a seven-point proposal as part of the reassessment process, said it would prioritise its in-house research to focus on the ten most common causes of death and disease in South Africa.
“As part of this process, some in-house research programmes may potentially be merged or closed. These proposals are being discussed widely with MRC staff and stakeholders in order to map out the best way forward. No decisions have been taken at this point and consultations are ongoing.”
The council would also focus on increasing funding to universities and medical schools to rebuild their health research, especially clinical research; creating new funding approaches for the development of new drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tests, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation’s administrative systems; improving the peer-review and quality of MRC research and tackling its laboratory and office space needs.
Further, it had identified the need to improve its in-house library to ensure MRC researchers have access to the latest medical journals.
“The MRC is pivotal to generating new knowledge, new treatments and disease prevention strategies to build a healthy nation” MRC president Professor Salim Karim said.
He noted that the council was setting a path to reestablish the MRC as a world-class research body with high impact against death and disease in the country.