Sexual Health and HIV: Translating Research into Policy for Positive Change

Press release 16 Jun 2011

There are 7,000 new HIV infections every day, 99 per cent of maternal deaths happen in developing countries, and access to sexual and reproductive health services is woefully inadequate. Evidence can help to improve policies and health services but too often it doesn’t get used. Today a new report is published that provides crucial learning on translating research into policy and practice that has a lasting impact.

The report – published as a special Supplement of the journal Health Research Policy and Systems – has been produced by the Sexual Health and HIV Evidence into Policy (SHHEP) initiative. The Supplement brings together the experiences of academics and communications professionals from Africa (South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ghana) and Asia (Bangladesh and India) to explore how they have influenced decision–makers. Whilst each paper is context and issue specific the lessons learned are relevant for researchers, practitioners, donors and policymakers working elsewhere and on topics other than health.

‘Research should play a crucial role in improving health but it doesn’t always have the impact that it should. Communicating research findings is not about spin – it is about getting the evidence into the hands of people who need it and helping them to put it into practice. The Supplement gives guidance on how to do that. The issues that are important here – sex, access to health care and violence – are often highly political, and approaches to communicating research need to take this into account,’ said Dr Sally Theobald, one of the editors from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Topics covered by the papers include:

  • How researchers working to improve the health of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV in Ghana formed a close relationship with Government health and social welfare departments.
  • Building trust between researchers, community members and policymakers in herpes simplex virus treatment trials in South Africa.
  • Assessing the impact of a new report Reviewing Emergencies for Swaziland, which documented the impact of HIV on this small country.
  • Work to engage the media about sexual and reproductive health in Kenya where researchers worked with the popular soap opera Makutano Junction on storylines that tackled issues like rape and homosexuality.
  • How an approach to safe sex which focuses on pleasure rather than disease and death can strengthen HIV prevention interventions.
  • How researchers in Bangladesh brought together journalists, public health workers and academics to discuss sexuality and rights issues with sexual minorities, for example gay men and lesbians.

In their foreword to the Supplement Professor Chris Whitty (Director Research and Evidence Division) and Dr Sue Kinn (Head of Health Research) from the UK Department for International Development comment, ‘The papers in this special Supplement focus on lesson learning on getting research into policy and practice. They highlight the range of methodologies and approaches researchers and communication specialists have used in different contexts to try to ensure research does not simply gather dust on library shelves but feeds into and is relevant to policy and practice in different contexts... I hope that the innovative approaches and promising ways forward, presented in these papers, will inspire and motivate others.’

The Supplement is edited by Dr Sally Theobald (Senior Lecturer in Social Science and International Health at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine), Prof Hilary Standing (Emeritus Professor, University of Sussex and Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies) and Ms Olivia Tulloch (Research Assistant: Health systems research: getting research into policy and practice at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine). It is free to access and download at:

Available for interview

 Supplement Editors: Dr Sally Theobald (Senior Lecturer in Social Science and International Health at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine), Prof Hilary Standing (Emeritus Professor, University of Sussex and Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies) and Ms Olivia Tulloch (Research Assistant, Health systems research: Getting research into policy and practice at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine). 

For media inquiries, or for further information on the Supplement and research, please contact Faye Moody: email:, tel: 0151 705 3280 or out of hours on 07788593036 or 07940396176 

Further information

  1. The Supplement is free to access and download online at Hard copies of the supplement are available from Faye Moody (
  2. The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) founded in 1898, was the first institution in the world dedicated to research and teaching in tropical medicine. LSTM has a strong commitment and track record in getting research into policy and practice.
  3. IDS is a leading global charity for research, teaching and information on international development. Our vision is a world in which poverty does not exist, social justice prevails and economic growth is focused on improving human wellbeing. We believe that research knowledge can drive the change that must happen in order for this vision to be realised. For more information go to:
  4. SHHEP is a collaboration across four UK Department for International Development Research Programme Consortia (RPC) that undertake research and action on HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health in resource poor contexts. Each consortium consists of five or more research, advocacy or service provider institutions from the south and the north working together over a five year period on critical areas of sexual and reproductive health. The group has formulated a range of targeted mechanisms to communicate health research to different audiences and spearhead change, and were finalists for the British Medical Journal 2010 Getting Research into Practice (GRiP) prize.
  5. The supplement was produced with funding from UK AID from the Department for International Development (DFID), the four DFID supported Research Programme Consortia working on Sexual and Reproductive Health: (1) Realising Rights: Improving Sexual and Reproductive Health in Poor and Vulnerable Populations, (2) Programme for Research and Capacity Building on Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV in Developing Countries, (3) Evidence for Action and (4) Addressing  the Balance of the Burden of AIDS in Africa (ABBA); International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada (IDRC); Merck Sharp and Dohme Corp., a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc. Whitehouse Station, NJ, USA and Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH.
  6. For more HIV statistics see
  7. For information on maternal health see the World Health Organisation