Challenges and opportunities in building health research capacity in Tanzania: a case of the National Institute for Medical Research
Capacity building is considered a priority for health research institutions in developing countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. However, in many countries including Tanzania, much emphasis has been directed towards human resources for health with the total exclusion of human resources for health research. The objective of this study was to systematically investigate the capacity building process for the Tanzanian National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) over a 30-year period and identify the challenges and opportunities in creating a critical mass of multi-disciplinary research scientists that is required for achieving the intended health benefits. A desk review of personnel database was conducted for information covering 1980-2009 on academic qualifications, training, research experience and research output. The current staff curriculum vitae (CV) were reviewed to gather information on researchers’ employment record, training, training support, area of expertise and scientific output. Interviews were conducted with a cross section of researchers on capacity development aspects using a self-administered questionnaire. In-depth interviews were also conducted with the current and former NIMR Management to seek information on capacity development challenges. A review was also done on staff personal files, annual reports, strategic plans and other occasional documents. A total of 163 CV were assessed; of these, 76.7% (125) were for Research Scientists (RS), 20.9% (34) Laboratory Technologists (LT) and 2.4% (4) for System Analysts. The Institute had 13 research scientists upon its establishment. Since 1980, NIMR has recruited a total of 185 Research Scientists. By 2009, NIMR had a total scientific workforce of 170 staff (RS= 82.4%; LT= 17.6%). Of the 140 RSs, 37 (26.4%) were first degree; 77 (55.5%) second degree while 26 (18.6%) were PhD degree holders. Of the total of 78 researchers interviewed, 55 (70.5%) indicated to have accessed postgraduate training through their personal efforts and 23 through institutional arrangement. Sixty (77%) respondents were satisfied with their tenure at NIMR. Seventy (89%) indicated that they had not at any point considered leaving NIMR. Most (79%) research scientists were recruited while holding a first degree, a few (17%) with second degree while only one (0.7%) holding a PhD degree. NIMR has experienced a research scientist attrition rate of 17.5%. Staff retention factors included availability of training opportunities; passion for conducting research; and good career prospects. Despite having a training programme, the institute has never at any moment been able to hold its own training resources. Being a public research institution, NIMR receives its core funding from the government of the United Republic of Tanzania. The bulk of the funding appears to be spent on personnel emoluments that take up to 85% (mean= 66%) of the allocated budget. In conclusion, the current NIMR’s research capacity building is dependent mainly on foreign funding and personal initiatives. There is an urgent need to increase local funding for capacity building and conduct of research. A programme should be put in place to ensure sustainability of the capacity building process.