Ground-breaking research capacity development initiative reaches over a million visits

This week, The Global Health Network is celebrating a major milestone in its quest to enable life-saving evidence to be gathered in the world’s poorest countries. This is a digital platform for medical researchers around the world that is changing the way that scientists work. Over one million visits have been received, from over 100,000 memberships, with individuals visiting from 196 countries. In so many sectors the ‘sharing phenomena’ is changing the world; from how we book hotels to finding jobs. What better place to harness this behaviour and technology than in the effort to reduce the burden of the world’s deadliest diseases.

The Global Health Network began in 2010 as a small project aimed at helping medical staff in low and middle income countries (LMICs) get involved in clinical research and to help them run their own studies. The WHO say that unless these countries become the generators, rather than the recipients of health research data, then there are never going to be any real changes in the health of these nations – who still have as many as 1 in 5 children dying before their 5th birthday. This project created an open web space where researchers in LMICs could share their tools and methods about research. Immediately, the high demand from healthcare workers and other research groups led to an exponential rate of increase in the resources required. It was amazing, researchers in Malawi were helping researchers in Nepal and nurses in the UK were guiding nurses in India – and the research teams in India were advising their peers in Cameroon!

Within six years, The Global Health Network has morphed into an extensive online science park; today 37 interlinked research communities share their knowledge, tools, and resources about different areas of clinical research. Cross-cutting research tools are available across all 37 communities, such as the ever-popular Global Health Training Centre where nearly 200,000 courses have been completed by research staff in these target countries. There is even an interactive research site database called SiteFinder that was built using dating site technology – this helps researchers work together and collaborate.

The typical rhetoric is that scientists don’t and won’t share. They must compete for funding, and for publications and so keeping everything to themselves is a survival necessity. So why are researchers sharing their knowledge and methods on this digital platform? It seems to have worked because these teams have realised that if they share how to get something done, everyone can win and progress can be made faster; by everyone. Membership to The Global Health Network is free. The Global Health Network has further cause for celebration, with MESH, its innovative community engagement web platform, reaching its first birthday. MESH was launched last year through a collaboration with the Wellcome Trust, and provides free and pragmatic community engagement support to researchers in LMICs.

The Global Health Network’s popularity is due to its high-quality, free materials and pragmatic guidance, as well as the fact that the Network is neutral and therefore not affiliated to any one organisation. This means that research groups from any institution can share their outputs, allowing their materials a global outreach via the established platform, but without losing ownership of their work. As a result, The Network hosts hundreds of resources which are of immense value to researchers around the world. For example, the INTERGROWTH-21st Group utilises the web space to share its neonatal growth reference charts, which have been downloaded and used by researchers in the Zika outbreak, and are now supported by free, online learning modules. A second example is the WHO, using the Network’s popular Global Health Training Centre to share its eLearning resources; the WHO’s Research Ethics Online Training is a 14 module course, and one of the most popular on the Network.

The Global Health Network also runs activities in-person, facilitating learning in places where internet access may be an issue – for example, its new blended learning programmes, offering computer access and support to research staff, have been popular in four countries so far. Furthermore, 23 free face-to-face workshops across fifteen countries have also reached nearly 2,000 research staff to teach practical skills for running successful research projects.

Reaching one million visits is an amazing achievement for The Global Health Network, demonstrating that the research community do want to work together and speed up the process of developing life-saving treatments and vaccines, or in finding new ways to manage disease in the most vulnerable populations across the globe. The Global Health Network would like to thank all of the researchers and groups who have taken the step, and their time, to share their own materials to facilitate the work of future researchers and make more rapid progress in the killer diseases that impact global health.