Meeting global health challenges through operational research and management science

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by: Geoff Royston

Introduction

The historic international health conference at Alma-Ata in 1978 first identified the need for research on “operation, control and evaluation problems” in primary health care.Since then, successive reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) have expressed the need for improvements in organization and delivery and have called for research, both on particular interventions and on entire health systems.Penetrating the “fog of delivery” clearly presents a major global health research challenge.

Operational research (also known as operations research) and management science have made major contributions in improving organization and delivery in many fields of human activity. Operational research originated in the military arena with the design of an integrated information and control system for the British air force in World War II, work which was estimated to have doubled the efficacy of its fighter command. Since then its use has spread, often providing big returns on investment. Two recent examples are: the world’s largest logistics company redesigned its overnight delivery network which was estimated to yield savings of more than 270 million United States dollars (US$) and a global automobile manufacturer streamlined its prototype vehicle testing, saving US$ 250 million annually. These examples and more are available at: http://www.scienceofbetter.org.

However, operational research and management science are underused in the health field, certainly in global health. For example, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria allows 5–10% of each grant for monitoring, evaluation and operations research. However, recent estimates are that projects only budget an average of 3% for operational research and actually spend considerably less.


Link to material: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/89/9/11-086066/en/