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September 7, 2015

As global leaders are set to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) later this month, a new report calls for the United Nations (UN) and its Member States to strengthen the SDG health targets by including indicators to measure global health research and development (R&D) progress in the SDG monitoring framework. The report—Measuring global health R&D for the post-2015 development agenda—which was prepared by the think tank Policy Cures and commissioned by a group of leading global health nonprofits, includes a short list of recommended global health R&D indicators for inclusion in the global and national SDG monitoring frameworks.

The report underscores the critical link between global health R&D and achieving the SDGs. It notes that the SDGs include ambitious targets for reducing child and maternal deaths and ending the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases, but existing global strategies that align with these targets clearly acknowledge they cannot be achieved without the development and delivery of new and improved drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, and other health tools. While the SDGs include a means of implementation target (target 3.b) to support R&D for vaccines and medicines for diseases primarily impacting developing countries, none of the official UN indicator proposals include any indicators to measure progress on the global health R&D needed to meet this and other health targets.

To fill this gap and ensure the SDGs generate the innovations needed to reach the health targets, the report proposes three indicators to measure global health R&D for inclusion in the SDG global monitoring framework, as well as five additional indicators countries are encouraged to include in their national monitoring frameworks if appropriate for their circumstances. These indicators were recommended based on an extensive landscaping and consultative process to identify health R&D indicators and further analysis to refine this list based on feasibility, level of community endorsement, appropriateness, and cross-cutting potential.

“Despite the importance of global health R&D to achieving the SDGs, it’s been largely ignored as part of the agenda,” said Erin Will Morton, director of the Global Health Technologies Coalition—one of the organizations that commissioned the paper. “If we want the SDGs to be successful, it is vital that Member States include robust global health R&D indicators in the monitoring framework. Without these indicators in place as we move toward 2030, we won’t be able to gauge whether we are on track to develop and deliver the next generation of health technologies needed to reach the SDGs.”

In the interest of balancing the importance of advancing global health R&D with the need to achieve a manageable global monitoring framework, the report recommends three indicators for inclusion in the global framework—the first two of which can be monitored by specialized agencies through existing mechanisms at the global level, while the third can be monitored by national statistical offices:

  • Public, private, and not-for-profit investment in R&D for the health needs that disproportionately affect people living in LMICs
  • Number of new registered health technologies targeting the health needs that disproportionately affect people living in LMICs
  • R&D expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product

To more comprehensively monitor global health R&D progress, the report recommends countries also adopt the following five complementary national indicators if appropriate for their circumstances:

  • Number of new health technologies registered by the National Regulatory Authority and/or recommended by national guidelines
  • National Regulatory Authorities participating in harmonized registration initiatives based on internationally recognized policies and standards; and sharing regulatory policies, legislation, guidelines, and information on registered products
  • Number of formal coordination and collaboration initiatives aimed at increasing and facilitating transfer of health-related technology, including between public and private entities
  • Number of registered clinical trials that meet international quality and safety standards
  • Number of clinical trial sites that meet international quality and safety standards

“While it is important to keep the list of global indicators manageable, it’s equally important to make sure we have the right indicators in place to effectively measure our progress toward the SDGs,” said Nick Chapman, Policy Cures’ director of research and the report’s lead author. “Inclusion of the indicators proposed in this paper would help us monitor progress in global health R&D and mobilize increased resources and political commitment to advance the health innovations needed to reach the SDGs, while creating very little or no additional burden on statistical offices.”

The report was prepared by Policy Cures and commissioned by the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), the GHTC, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), PATH, and the TB Alliance to inform stakeholders of the importance of including robust indicators for global health R&D and advise on the most suitable indicators for inclusion.