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Developing countries are inventing more solutions to health problems, according to 26 global health professionals who authored a recent Science article. The authors, including PATH president Christopher Elias, MD, MPH, encourage academic research and global health communities to support these efforts by creating and engaging in networks focused on health innovation.

“Improving the health of the poorest people in the developing world depends on the development and deployment of many varieties of heath innovations,” the authors say. Such health innovations include new drugs, vaccines, diagnostic tests, software, and medical devices as well as new techniques in engineering and manufacturing and changes in health policies.

Historically health innovations in developing countries have been funded and led by philanthropies and governments in wealthier countries. Increasingly, developing countries can themselves innovate. Many of them are reaping benefits from decades of investments in education, infrastructure, and manufacturing capacity.

Today developing countries are creating products such as the first effective meningitis B vaccine and antimalarial drugs, and they are designing innovative health programs, such as Brazil’s program for providing free access to HIV drugs. Developing-country research and innovation may have advantages over similar efforts undertaken in the industrialized world, the authors explain.

To support health innovation in developing countries, the authors advocate for the formation of networks to promote “policy research, local innovation, South-to-South learning, and information sharing.” Examples of such networks include the Developing Country Vaccine Manufacturers’ Network, which brings together both state-owned and private manufacturers in Brazil, Cuba, China, India, Indonesia, and Mexico. Another example given in the article, the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum, focuses on intellectual property and access to research and pharmaceutical products.

“We believe that more frequent robust exchanges of know-how among an expanding universe of public- and private-sector players would accelerate innovation and expedite the translation of knowledge about diseases of the poor while also reflecting national sensitivities, changing contexts, and the concomitant desire for economic growth,” the authors state. “A network approach could help maximize substantial existing investments in health research made by innovative developing countries and also complement global efforts to address health disparities and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”

The article appeared in the July 15, 2005, issue of Science (volume 309, page 401).