Background and Objectives

Research on the social determinants of health has received heightened attention over the past years, leading to and stimulated by the establishment of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH) in 2005.
In its final report (2008), the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health suggests that causes of health inequities are located at different levels:

  1. the socioeconomic and political context (including governance, labor policies, social policies, macro-economic policies, public policies as well as culture and societal values),
  2. the structural level and people’s socioeconomic positions within this context (such as income, educational status, occupation, class, gender and race/ethnicity).

    These then have an impact on health status through
  3. the intermediary determinants of health, including material circumstances (housing, nutrition, environment), psychosocial factors (stress, lack of social support), individual behavior and biological disease mechanisms (smoking, alcohol consumption, diet leading for example to coronary heart disease).

While the detrimental effects of persisting health inequities have been recognized by different stakeholders, concrete interventions and policies transforming the structural processes that determine health inequities have remained few. One reason for this is the lack of locally relevant research activities and research results which define intervention priorities and help to develop appropriate solutions to pressing health problems especially in low and middle income countries.

Strengthened capacities to perform research of high quality and to make the results applicable for policies and interventions can improve the depth and impact of SDH research and contribute to evidence-based policies and actions. This is why  SDH-Net concentrates on research capacity strengthening (RCS) for research on social determinants but also on transfer of knowledge into policy and practice.

The Coordination Action will develop and implement a concept for the development of research capacity for health and its social determinants in close collaboration with institutions in International Cooperation Partner Countries (ICPC) and a substantial element of South-South cooperation. Topical areas to be covered will be identified through a needs assessment with all stakeholders as part of the project and may include – among others – epidemiology and demography, health economics, environmental health, evaluation sciences, medical anthropology and community-based health care. Institutions involved in the consortium have either scientific expertise in the field of social determinants of health (excellence centers) or implement policies aiming to reduce social inequities in health (implementing agencies).
Emphasis will be given to establishing and supporting excellent academic teaching and research networks. Therefore active participation of young researchers in regional and international fora as well as exchange between research institutions will be encouraged. The aim is to achieve a balanced level of participation for ICPC countries.

Overall, this project intends to provide a framework for developing interdisciplinary research capacity in the field of social determinants of health by linking, strengthening and building capacities in research institutions and implementing agencies in low and middle income countries as well as in Europe. Ultimately, the goal of the project is to advance the understanding of social determinants of health, improve interventions on local and regional level and build sustainable structures for addressing health inequities.

The focus on social determinants of health in the collaboration project will allow for an in-depth and broad capacity-building approach, including managerial and technical excellence, ethical issues, and research strategies. Lessons learnt will be checked against best practices and success factors in other Latin American, African and global settings, leading to lessons learnt on how to build SDH-related research capacity with strong relevance to the respective context.
SDH-Net will have develop a concept for research capacity building on individual, institutional and system level and contribute to research system strengthening and to the creation of research landscapes that enable and stimulate locally relevant, interdisciplinary research. It will lead to enhanced capacities for conducting and managing research on SDH. Furthermore, links between research, policy and practice will be forged by developing tools and mechanisms facilitating sustained collaboration.