Several frameworks have been constructed to analyse the factors which influence and shape the uptake of evidence into policy processes in resource poor settings, yet empirical analyses of health policy making in these settings are relatively rare. National policy making for cotrimoxazole (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole) preventive therapy in developing countries offers a pertinent case for the application of a policy analysis lens. The provision of cotrimoxazole as a prophylaxis is an inexpensive and highly efficacious preventative intervention in HIV infected individuals, reducing both morbidity and mortality among adults and children with HIV/AIDS, yet evidence suggests that it has not been quickly or evenly scaled-up in resource poor settings.
Methods: Comparative analysis was conducted in Malawi, Uganda and Zambia, using the case study approach. We applied the ‘RAPID’ framework developed by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and conducted a total of 47 in-depth interviews across the three countries to examine the influence of context (including the influence of donor agencies), evidence (both local and international), and the links between researcher, policy makers and those seeking to influence the policy process.
Results: Each area of analysis was found to have an influence on the creation of national policy on cotrimoxazole preventive therapy (CPT) in all three countries. In relation to context, the following were found to be influential: government structures and their focus, donor interest and involvement, healthcare infrastructure and other uses of cotrimoxazole and related drugs in the country. In terms of the nature of the evidence, we found that how policy makers perceived the strength of evidence behind international recommendations was crucial (if evidence was considered weak then the recommendations were rejected). Further, local operational research results seem to have been taken up more quickly, while randomised controlled trials (the gold standard of clinical research) was not necessarily translated into policy so swiftly. Finally the links between different research and policy actors were of critical importance, with overlaps between researcher and policy maker networks crucial to facilitate knowledge transfer. Within these networks, in each country the policy development process relied on a powerful policy entrepreneur who helped get cotrimoxazole preventive therapy onto the policy agenda.
Conclusions: This analysis underscores the importance of considering national level variables in the explanation of the uptake of evidence into national policy settings, and recognising how local policy makers interpret international evidence. Local priorities, the ways in which evidence was interpreted, and the nature of the links between policy makers and researchers could either drive or stall the policy process. Developing the understanding of these processes enables the explanation of the use (or non-use) of evidence in policy making, and potentially may help to shape future strategies to bridge the research-policy gaps and ultimately improve the uptake of evidence in decision making.
Health Research Policy and Systems (2011) 9 (Suppl 1): S6 [doi:10.1186/1478-4505-9-S1-S6]