Use of post-graduate students' research in evidence informed health policies: a case study of Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Uganda
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BACKGROUND: World over, stakeholders are increasingly concerned about making research useful in public policy-making. However, there are hardly any reports linking production of research by students at institutions of higher learning to its application in society. We assessed whether and how post-graduate students' research was used in evidence-informed health policies. METHODS: This is a multiple case study of master's students' dissertations at Makerere University College of Health Sciences (MakCHS) produced between 1996 and 2010. In a structured review, we applied a theoretical framework of 'research use' and used content analysis to map how research was used in public policy documents. We categorised content of these documents according to the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDG). We defined a case of 'use' as citation of research products from a master's student's dissertation in a public policy-related document. RESULTS: We found 22 cases of research use in policy-related documents (0.5%) out of a total 4230 citations from 16 of 1172 total dissertations (1.4%). Additionally, research was mostly cited in primary studies (95.4%), systematic reviews (3%), narrative reviews (0.8%) and cost-effectiveness analyses (0.2%). Research was predominantly used instrumentally, to either frame the problem (burden of disease or health condition) or select an intervention (treatment or diagnostic option) and rarely symbolically to justify strategies already selected. The bulk of the cases of research use addressed child health (MDG 4), focusing on infectious diseases (MDG 6), mainly in international clinical or public health guidelines, working papers, a consensus statement and a global report. We distilled 'synergistic relationships' among organisations or interest groups, 'globalisation of local evidence', 'trade-offs' in the use of research and use of 'negative results' from the documents and text content. CONCLUSIONS: Research from dissertations of post-graduate students at MakCHS is used in evidence-informed health policies, particularly for infectious diseases in child health. Further, we have delineated pathways of research use in the global arena and highlighted the importance of 'negative results' from dissertations of post-graduate students at MakCHS.