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Open Access Evidence-informed policy making at country level: lessons learned from the South African Tuberculosis Think Tank

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BACKGROUND: National Tuberculosis Programmes (NTPs) require specialist input to support the development of policy and practice informed by evidence, typically against tight deadlines.

OBJECTIVE:To describe lessons learned from establishing a dedicated tuberculosis (TB) think tank to advise the South African NTP on TB policy.

INTERVENTION AND EVALUATION METHODS: A national TB think tank was established to advise the NTP in support of evidence-informed policy. Support was provided for activities, including meetings, modelling and regular telephone calls, with a wider network of unpaid expert advisers under an executive committee and working groups. Intervention evaluation used desktop analysis of documentary evidence, interviews and direct observation.

RESULTS: The TB Think Tank evolved over time to acquire three key roles: an ‘institution', a ‘policy dialogue forum' and an ‘interface'. Although enthusiasm was high, motivating participation among the NTP and external experts proved challenging. Motivation of working groups was most successful when aligned to a specific need for NTP decision making. Despite challenges, the TB Think Tank contributed to South Africa's first ever TB and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) investment case, and the decision to create South Africa's first ever ring-fenced grant for TB. The TB Think Tank also assisted the NTP in formulating strategy to accelerate progress towards reaching World Health Organization targets.

DISCUSSION: With partners, the TB Think Tank achieved major successes in supporting evidence-informed decision making, and garnered increased funding for TB in South Africa. Identifying ways to increase the involvement of NTP staff and other experts, and keeping the scope of the Think Tank well defined, could facilitate greater impact. Think tank initiatives could be replicated in other settings to support evidence-informed policy making.
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Keywords: analysis; decision making; evaluation; modelling; policy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: TB Modelling Group, Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, and Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, TB Centre, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK 2: Aurum Institute, Johannesburg, School of Public Health, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Advancing Treatment and Care for TB/HIV, South African Medical Research Council, Johannesburg, South Africa 3: Aurum Institute, Washington DC, USA 4: Aurum Institute, Johannesburg 5: TB Modelling Group, Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, and Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology 6: TB Centre, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK 7: WhiteOx, Bristol, UK 8: KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation, The Hague, The Netherlands 9: South African National TB Control Programme, Pretoria, South Africa 10: TB Modelling Group, Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, and Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Aurum Institute, Johannesburg, School of Public Health, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Advancing Treatment and Care for TB/HIV, South African Medical Research Council, Johannesburg, South Africa

Publication date: 01 June 2018

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  • The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease publishes articles on all aspects of lung health, including public health-related issues such as training programmes, cost-benefit analysis, legislation, epidemiology, intervention studies and health systems research. The IJTLD is dedicated to the continuing education of physicians and health personnel and the dissemination of information on tuberculosis and lung health world-wide.

    Certain IJTLD articles are selected for translation into French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian. They are available on the Union website

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