Sofia Declaration: renewed commitment to the use of evidence, information and research in policy-making
The Sofia Declaration has reaffirmed commitment to the Action plan to strengthen the use of evidence, information and research for policy-making in the WHO European Region (resolution EUR/RC66/R12). Adopted during a meeting on 15–17 November 2017 in Sofia, Bulgaria, the Declaration requests WHO/Europe to support Member States in strengthening research systems and strategies for health to enhance the use of evidence from national health research to inform health policies.
Participants from Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan took part in the meeting. The Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation (DIR) at WHO/Europe and the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases at WHO headquarters co-organized the event.
The meeting was an important capacity-building activity of the European Health Information Initiative (EHII), implemented by DIR. Dr Claudia Stein, Director of DIR, noted the significance of the event: “This is the first time WHO/Europe is moving in a concrete way to support countries in national research and research strategies in health.”
Exploring country-driven approaches
The Action plan emphasizes a systems approach to health research in order to:
- align research agendas with public health priorities;
- facilitate multisectoral, interdisciplinary health research practice; and
- strengthen knowledge translation, which is the process of fostering the systematic and transparent use of research in policy-making.
One of the meeting’s key objectives was to allow participants to explore country-driven methods and systems approaches to advance national health research and evidence-informed policy-making.
Key areas covered during the meeting included:
- the rationale for the systems approach in health research;
- the current status, opportunities and challenges of existing national health research, based on rapid reviews;
- skills for mapping and profiling national health research systems (provided by the Council on Health Research for Development) and research strategy development (provided by Brunel University, United Kingdom); and
- planning and drafting action plans towards national health research strategies.
European Health Research Network to jointly advance health research
In addition to the adoption of the Sofia Declaration, the meeting concluded with the establishment of the European Health Research Network under the auspice of EHII. Participants identified concrete actions they will take following the meeting, and proposed to engage other national health research stakeholders to jointly advance health research in their countries and strengthen local decision-making informed by local knowledge.
As founding members of the European Health Research Network, the participants requested to meet again in 2018 to report back on the progress made towards strengthening national health research systems.