How can we support evidence-informed policymaking on the African continent?

Joseph Adu, Sebastian Gyamfi, Ebenezer Martin-Yeboah and Mark Fordjour Owusu

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Knowledge translation platforms to support African evidence-informed policies: challenges and progress’.

Evidence-based policy is key to reducing public health problems worldwide. The late 2000s witnessed a breakthrough in maternal healthcare delivery in Southern Africa by way of a policy initiative that allowed the use of magnesium sulphate to prevent pregnancy induced hypertension-related deaths among pregnant women. Pregnancy induced hypertension was identified as the single most important cause of death among pregnant women in the Africa sub-region. This feat was attained through the concerted efforts of a team of international researchers, local researchers, health practitioners (academic obstetricians) and policymakers from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa who harnessed their individual knowledge into a policy to address this long existing health scare.

In our review, we found that the intervention by EVIPNet (in making giant strides in the fight against malaria in Africa) improved the capacities of knowledge among institutions on the continent through publication of policy briefs and peer-reviewed articles – resulting in an increment in Africa’s share in global research. This effort, apart from creating awareness about the health challenges on the continent, also served as a springboard to attract researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders as a community of actors championing knowledge translation in Africa.

These scenarios described above point to one thing: if the numerous challenges associated with knowledge exchange in Africa are resolved, the benefits associated with collaborations between research and practice will transform the various facets of development on the Africa continent. Knowledge Translation Platforms (KTPs) exist as a group of policymakers, researchers, and civil society organisations who facilitate the transfer of research evidence into policy and action to solve societal problems. Whereas public health policymaking in developed countries has benefited immensely from health research, the opposite is the case in most African countries. Besides the fact that most African countries do not have KTPs, the few which do tend to face implementation challenges.

And what are these challenges? Bottlenecks of KTPs in Africa include lack of human resources, gaps in infrastructure, high turnover among top-level policymakers in government, wider gaps between researchers and policymakers, and inadequate financial capital. Like in many other sectors, KTPs in Africa largely rely on international agencies for funding, thus preventing any long-term project financing/implementation. Meanwhile, projects with short life cycles often fail to make the needed impact. This lack of long-term funding explains the poor state of KTPs on the continent since financial sustainability is key in the success of KTPs.

There also seem not to be security of tenure for highly skilled specialists who matter in the knowledge translation continuum. Owing to the unbridled power most African governments wield, security of tenure becomes threatened for key actors in the KTP community of practice even if not political appointees. Imagine having to (re)train staff and losing them over short period of time due to uncertainties on the labour front. This not only sets back the pace of progress but also, adds to the already high cost of running KTPs. The alternative – strong partnership with academia – is often either missing or weak. Meanwhile, dialogue and collaboration are the products of a healthy engagement among academic institutions, researchers, and policymakers. Poor internet connectivity, erratic power supply, and poor transportation networks still stare at the face of developmental progress on the continent, notwithstanding the immense infrastructural investments made by successive governments.

If Africa is to attain the health-related goals of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 or the African development agenda by 2063, then evidence-informed policymaking propelled by KTPs should be given serious attention. The prospects of KTPs in Africa are very high, but their eventual success depend on the willingness of researchers and policymakers to work together. This way, KTPs may contribute effectively towards developing responsive health systems with evidence-informed policies.


Joseph Adu: Western University, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Ontario, Canada

Sebastian Gyamfi: Lawson Health Research Institute, London, Ontario, Canada and Arthur Labatt School of Nursing, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada

Ebenezer Martin-Yeboah: Department of Health Information Science, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada

Mark Fordjour Owusu: School of Health Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand


You can read the original research in Evidence & Policy:

Adu, J. Gyamfi, S. and Martin-Yeboah, E. (2020) Knowledge translation platforms to support African evidence-informed policies: challenges and progress. Evidence & Policy, DOI: 10.1332/174426421X16123456824061.


Image credit: Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash


If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Policies for evidence: a comparative analysis of Africa’s national evaluation policy landscape

Insights from system leaders about operationalising a knowledge translation department in the Oman Ministry of Health

Empathy is key: addressing obstacles to policy progress of ‘work-focused healthcare’

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