Journal Article

Translating HIV/AIDS research findings into policy: Lessons from a case study of ‘the Mwanza trial’

The scale and severity of the impact of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic on low-income countries, mainly those in sub-Saharan Africa, is almost unimaginable to people in high-income countries. There is a particularly pressing need to understand better how to ensure the translation into policy and practice of important research findings in HIV/AIDS prevention and care in countries threatened by fast spreading HIV epidemics. The purpose of this paper is to review the findings and implications of a policy analysis case study of an HIV/AIDS clinical trial that has been successful in influencing HIV prevention policy relevant to low-income countries, in order to identify illustrative lessons for HIV/AIDS researchers in the future. The case study sought to detail the interaction between researchers and policy-makers for this particular case study to ascertain detailed analysis by these two groups on the interaction between research and policy.

The major findings of the policy analysis case study were that policy shift was a cumulative but non-linear process, with the Mwanza trial placing a crucial role in both boosting and confirming existing policy movements. Researchers and policy-makers held similar longitudinal views of the process and political environment. Key moments of communication tended to involve personal contact. The important role played by people and organizations who could work in both the research and policy communities was often mentioned as crucial in enabling research relevant policy shifts.

Researchers may absorb themselves in the technicalities of their study without considering their role in pursuing the wider policy implications. The impact of research on policy must be an integral element of every stage of the research process. The case study illustrates the need to take a contextual view of the interaction between research and policy, and understand how changing political contexts affect receptivity to research outcomes. This will increase the likelihood of research findings having an impact on policy.

The review reflects the authors’ experiences of working for organizations in non-governmental organization, bilateral development agency and academic settings.