Operational research course offered in the Asia Pacific

To build research capacity in the Pacific region, a SORT IT operational research (OR) course is being offered under the aegis of The Union Asia Pacific. The SORT IT programme offers an intensive course in operational research that consists of three six-day modules offered over nine to 12 months.

In August 2015, participants attended Module 1 in Fiji, flying in from American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Kiribati, Palau, Samoa and Vanuatu. This module included lectures and discussions about operational research methods and data and culminated in participants producing a draft research protocol and completing a Union ethics application form.

“There is little capacity in the Pacific for operational research,” says Dr Karen Bissell, consultant to The Union’s Department of Research. “We’re trying to help people who work in local institutions to develop skills to write their own research protocols and publish their findings. After the course, we hope they will continue to use OR to shape public health policy and practice in their countries.” This is the second multi-country OR course to be offered by The Union in this part of the Asia Pacific.

To learn about the principles and practice of OR, participants were shown examples of completed and published projects. Facilitators worked with participants individually to help them define their own research questions and select appropriate research methods.

“The Pacific countries have some specific health challenges, such as non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and environmental health issues, that need to be addressed urgently,” says Bissell. “It is important for people to use research to solve problems and improve services in their contexts.”

Participants in this course have chosen to research among other things the prevalence and management of NCDs such as chronic kidney disease, cancer and diabetes mellitus and the introduction of Xpert MTB/RIF for TB diagnosis. In Module 2, which was held in November, they learned how to analyse their data, and they will return in August 2016 for Module 3 to learn how to write up their results and submit their papers to peer-reviewed journals.

To expand strategic institutional links, this course included facilitators from The Union, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Pacific Island Health Officers' Association (PIHOA). Other facilitators are from universities and health services in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand.

The  SORT IT programme, which has proved highly successful, is a collaboration between The Union, Médicins Sans Frontières and the World Health Organizations’s Special Programme for Training and Research in Tropical Diseases.

Funding for the Pacific Region course was provided by The Union, SPC and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

For more information about SORT IT, including its online video lectures, please go to: http://www.theunion.org/what-we-do/courses/operational-research