Harnessing the Digital Sharing Revolution to Save Lives

04/07/2014 17:27 BST | Updated 08/09/2014 10:59 BST

Today is a big day for the Global Health Network, as we launch the Global Health Research Process Map. This is the first digital toolkit designed to enable researchers anywhere in the world to conduct rigorous global health research. It offers step-by-step guidance for planning successful global health research projects and has the potential to revolutionise the current process, speeding the development of new research and therapies.

The Global Health Research Process Map and the Global Health Network were created in response to a systemic problem in the worlds of science and global health: a lack of sharing and collaboration. From education onward, researchers are taught to compete with each other - for resources, funding and citations - and not collaborate.

This is not just unproductive - as it often creates duplication due to a lack of awareness of the hidden and protected work of peers - but also impairs progress. Success in science and global health depends on the sharing of research and research methods, to see what works and what doesn't. Collaboration is crucial in tackling the massive problems of global health that impact billions of lives.

Success in global health is also dependent on ensuring that all researchers have the skills and knowledge to undertake research. Building local research capacity is crucial in the countries that face some of the biggest global health challenges - Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). The most recent World Health Organization report highlighted how reducing the devastating inequity in health between rich and poor nations depends on generating global health evidence through research. In particular, LMICs need to become greater producers of this evidence through developing their own research capacities.

However, building research capacity is difficult when researchers in LMICs lack support and have no access to training, tools and resources. Many researchers in LMICs are effectively isolated, geographically and also through the lack of knowledge and guidance needed to conduct global health research effectively.

In addition, many more potential researchers in LMICS, who could also be advancing global health, shy away from conducting research due to a lack of confidence and lack of access to collaborators and peers with whom they could work with and learn from. This is incredibly detrimental. Currently, only 10% of all global health research focuses on conditions that account for 90% of the global disease burden. In order to tackle these challenges, we need more researchers conducting more research.

The Global Health Network is like an online science park. It was set up to support and equip researchers in low income settings to conduct their own research and collect life-saving evidence. The Global Health Network enables researchers to share research documents, methods and resources - and connect with each other to build a global network of support. Since launching in 2011 the platform has had more than 260,000 visits from over 150 countries, thousands of research templates, documents and tools have been shared and over 20,000 free eLearning courses have been taken by researchers around the world who otherwise would not have access to such training.

As a free, open-access digital platform, the Global Health Network enables equity of access to crucial research information and resources regardless of a researcher's financial, geographical or institutional barriers. Researchers are able to access the resources, training and professional network of the Global Health Network anywhere, whether on a laboratory computer in Nepal or on a mobile phone in Uganda.

The power of digital technology has been effectively exploited by commerce and social media. The Global Health Network is using this same technology to facilitate global sharing and collaboration, enabling researchers to understand how to do great research, and how to accelerate it through learning and engaging with their peers. With everyone able to see, analyse and discuss the research methods of others, best practice can be identified shared and developed.

However good the technology is, there is also the need to convince researchers to share - which is not normal behaviour in science. The rapid uptake and use of the platform show that this does not seem to be a barrier and research staff are embracing this unusual approach and using it widely in their daily work.

Applying digital technology is also key in building local research capacity. The Global Health Network puts an independent researcher anywhere in the world on the global stage, providing them with the knowledge, tools and support to conduct research that is every bit as rigorous as that conducted by a researcher in the UK. Importantly this facility also puts researchers in these resource-limited settings in touch with each other and with other experts. This peer support is highly impactful.

In short, the Global Health Network is working to revolutionise global health. Through enabling global sharing and collaboration, and developing the capacity and skills of researchers around the world, the platform is creating and nurturing thousands of researchers and fostering crucial collaborations. It's enabling anyone anywhere to conduct strong research, which is the foundation on which the rest of global health - including research replication and analysis, and eventually health policy and therapy development - rests.