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New opportunities in global health research


The NIHR Global Health Research Programme has come on in leaps and bounds over the past four years, writes Dr Lesong Conteh, with a raft of funding opportunities on the way for the next 12 months.

In recent years it has been incredibly exciting to watch the NIHR Global Health Research Programme grow in both its funding commitments and ambition. I’ve had the privilege of being part of the programme since its inception in 2016, sitting on the decision-making panel for the very first call, to fund NIHR Global Health Research Units and Groups.   

The programme is continuing to grow in 2020, with a selection of new funding opportunities coming up this year to support global health research alongside the global focus on COVID-19 research.

Transforming applied global health research

For those of us working in health research in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the NIHR is a funder we were not necessarily familiar with. However, over the past few years they have quickly established themselves as an important new funder of high quality applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in LMICs.

In addition to supporting units composed of well-established global health researchers, the NIHR has funded research groups that create new collaborations between researchers in the UK and LMICs.  

The NIHR also delivers global health research funding through collaborations with funding partners who are established players in the UK or globally. This allows NIHR the flexibility to support existing research activities in global health and has allowed NIHR to directly fund LMIC institutions from the early days of the global health research portfolio.

As the NIHR evolves, so too does its distinct contribution. For example, a sizable part of the portfolio is focused on addressing the health issues of the poorest people in middle-income countries, where it is estimated that 50% of the world’s poor live. Also, funds are being targeted at areas that have not always been identified as priorities - such as surgery, trauma, injuries and accidents, non-communicable diseases, multimorbidity and health systems strengthening. 

Ambitious new plans for 2020 and beyond

There are exciting times ahead for the NIHR Global Health Research portfolio, with plans to consolidate and expand the programme through new funding calls open over the coming year. 

The NIHR plans to launch five distinct funding initiatives this year to support global health research. Launch dates and call windows have been adjusted to balance the response to COVID-19 alongside continuing to deliver global health research opportunities.

1) In June, there will be two new substantive funding calls: for NIHR Global Health Research Units and NIHR Global Health Research Groups.

The units call will offer five-year funding to established global partnerships with an existing track record of delivering internationally recognised health research. The groups call, on the other hand, will offer four-year funding to research groups that are either new to delivering health research globally or are expanding an existing partnership. 

2) In September, the NIHR Global Research Professorships scheme will fund the next cohort of research leaders, to strengthen research leadership at the highest academic levels. 

3) In October, the NIHR will launch a major new programme to strengthen research capacity in LMIC institutions to undertake, deliver and manage high quality research that address local needs and priorities particularly in non-communicable diseases.

4) In November, the next funding call for NIHR Research and Innovation for Global Health Transformation (RIGHT) will focus on injuries, accidents, and urgent and emergency care. This call intends to fund research that develops and evaluates interventions that have the potential for transformative impact. 

5) And finally, in March 2021 the NIHR Global Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR) programme will launch a research call to support LMICs to achieve high quality universal health coverage. 

Providing opportunities across the spectrum

I am really excited about the breadth of programmes to be launched over the course of this year. These new calls will ensure that NIHR’s global health research funding addresses urgent health needs as well as emerging diseases, and tackles the underlying issues to strengthen research and health systems in LMICs. 

There are a range of funding opportunities for individual researchers, and for new and established networks, to pursue research and implementation ideas that will be transformative. 

I strongly encourage my colleagues in the global health research community to apply for the funding opportunities that best suit their research interests and the needs of their communities and health systems.

Find out more about NIHR global health research


Dr Lesong Conteh, Deputy chair, NIHR Global Health Research Independent Scientific Advisory Group (ISAG), Associate Professorial Research Fellow, Department of Health Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.