Public health research - multidisciplinary, high-benefit, undervalued
The major health problems faced by policy-makers and practitioners at national and local levels require public health approaches. However, public health research is the "poor relative" of biomedical research: it is worthy, but not rich. In the European Commission's health research programme, biomedicine gets 90% of the funding, whereas public health research gets less than 10%. This pattern is repeated nationally in most countries, reflecting public policies to support industries - pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices - where profits are to be made, rather than not-for-profit, public health research. SPHERE, a study coordinated through the European Public Health Association, conducted bibliometric analyses across public health research themes and mapped the European and national structures and priorities for research. Whilst most European countries have national strategies (and some programmes) for public health, few have public health research strategies and the coordination of public health research is weak. Three further studies are being undertaken. In STEPS, the contribution of civil society organizations in the new EU member states to public health research will be discussed at national workshops with the ministries of health, the science/research councils and the national public health associations. In PHIRE, thematic Sections and the national member associations together evaluate the impact of European-funded health projects within member states. In FAHRE, the specific theme of food and health will be addressed, bridging industry and non-profit research sectors. Arguments for public health research can be made through lobbying at European level, but researchers and practitioners also need to influence the development of public health research within individual countries - leading to a European Public Health Research Area. © 2010 Interdisciplinary Centre for Comparative Research in the Social Sciences and ICCR Foundation.