Researchers publish roadmap for building brain research capacity in low- and middle-income countries

High-income countries are home to 200 times more neurologists per capita, and up to 160 times more psychiatrists, than low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). To address the rising global burden of neurological, mental health, developmental and substance use disorders, LMICs are eager to build brain and nervous system disorders research capacity from the individual to the national level, say researchers writing in the journal Nature.

Authors include Linda B. Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., a dean’s professor and chair of the University of Florida department of epidemiology at the College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine; Joseph Zunt, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of global health and neurology at the University of Washington; Bahr Weiss, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University; Ayeesha Kamran Kamal, M.B.B.S., an associate professor of neurology at Aga Khan University in Pakistan; and Krishna Vaddiparti, Ph.D., M.P.E., M.S.W., a research assistant professor at the UF department of epidemiology. The authors all participate in international research projects supported by the Fogarty International Center, part of the National Institutes of Health. The center funds basic, clinical and applied research and training for U.S. and international investigators working in LMICs.

The authors draw upon their experiences working on Fogarty-funded projects in India, Pakistan, Peru and Vietnam to propose a framework for building research capacity at the individual, institutional, network and national levels. Capacity building at the individual level begins with mentoring, the authors write, and it should be context-driven, particularly when training happens outside the trainee’s home country.

“Mentoring is really satisfying and it is a responsibility we all have,” said Cottler, PHHP’s associate dean for research. “Mentoring across countries is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had and it emphasizes that there are more similarities than differences in the world.”

The authors list a number of approaches for building research capacity at the institutional, network and national levels, including needs and opportunities for developing human capacity, infrastructure and tools, funding and technology. They stress the need for flexibility and cite the seven principles from the World Health Organization’s ESSENCE good practice document series.

“These core principles serve as a useful guide for funding agencies, the scientific community and academic institutions on how to move forward as they identify priorities, develop goals and objectives, design programmes and establish partnerships,” the authors write. “They are also useful principles to address various challenges in collaborations within and between countries and cultures, such as human, infrastructure, technological and ethical challenges.”