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Hum Reprod. 1988 Jan;3(1):7-10.

Promotion of research in human reproduction: global needs and perspectives.

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  • 1Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.


The WHO Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction was established in 1972, to respond to a global expansion in research needs in human reproduction, especially in the area of fertility regulation. The Programme's limited resources come from voluntary contributions by governments and international agencies. The emphasis is always on the needs of developing countries. The Programme has to keep the field under continuous review, and to direct its limited resources to the major unmet needs. This paper presents, from a global perspective, the needs and priorities in the promotion of research in human reproduction. It is emphasized that research has to be backed up by political commitment and resources if it is to have an impact on reproductive health. The role of determinants of health, other than and beyond the medical services, has also to be recognized. Promotion of research in human reproduction, to serve developing country needs, has to move into two directions. One is the mobilization of a global effort to develop and test technologies, where the available technologies are not satisfactory to meet the needs and where the research is slackening. The second is the strengthening of in-country resources for research to deal with country-specific problems and to enable countries to utilize, to the best, available technologies.


Reproductive health includes 4 elements: fertility regulation, safe pregnancy and childbirth, infant and child health and survival, and safe sex. Indicators of lack of reproductive health are: infertility (60-80 million cases), lack of access to fertility regulation (500 million cases), 30-50 million induced abortions a year, 9.6 million infant deaths and 4.8 million under-5 deaths, 250 million cases of gonorrhea, 50 million cases of syphilis, and an estimated 50-100 million cases of AIDS by 1991. Unregulated human fertility is a threat to man's continued survival on earth; the population is now 5 billion and grows by 80 million a year. Moreover, the inequitable distribution of reproductive health is a violation of human rights; 76% of the population, 99% of maternal deaths, 95% of infant and child deaths, and 90% of population growth are in developing countries. Biomedical research can improve reproductive health only if it is supported by an adequate health delivery system, adequate resources, and political commitment. To ensure that these conditions are met, the World Health Organization is advocating "health systems research" to optimize country-specific health service delivery. Research priorities are determined by the magnitude of the need, the urgency of the need, and the degree to which the need for research is being met. The global need for research in reproductive health is greatest in the areas of fertility regulation and infertility. These needs must be met in 2 ways: by developing and testing technologies and by strengthening in-country resources for research in country-specific problems. The World Health Organization's Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction was established in 1972 to respond to global research needs, especially in the area of fertility regulation. In the 1st phase of the Program the emphasis was on the development of new technology. In the 2nd phase emphasis was placed also on health systems research to ensure that available technology reached the target populations in developing countries. The Program's 1st priority is on research and testing of existing methods of fertility regulation; the 2nd priority is research on methods at an advanced state of development, such as once-a-month injectables, 2-6 monthly injectables, levonorgestrel-releasing vaginal rings, progesterone-releasing vaginal rings, antiprogestins and antifertility vaccines; the 3rd priority is on methods further back in the pipeline, such as male contraceptives. The Special Program's research activities are conducted by task forces, run by steering committees, composed of multidisciplinary, multinational teams. A major objective of the program is to strengthen research capabilities in developing countries, and to this end it furnishes training, equipment and supplies, and encouragement to participate in the research activities. It also recognizes the need for collaboration between countries.

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