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The remaining unknowns: a mixed methods study of the current and global health research priorities for COVID-19
  1. Alice Norton1,2,
  2. Arancha De La Horra Gozalo2,
  3. Nicole Feune de Colombi2,
  4. Moses Alobo3,
  5. Juliette Mutheu Asego3,
  6. Zainab Al-Rawni2,
  7. Emilia Antonio1,2,
  8. James Parker2,
  9. Wayne Mwangi3,
  10. Colette Adhiambo Wesonga3,
  11. Kevin Marsh2,3,
  12. Marta Tufet1,
  13. Peter Piot4,5,
  14. Trudie Lang2
  1. 1UK Collaborative on Development Research, London, UK
  2. 2Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Oxford, UK
  3. 3African Academy of Sciences, Nairobi, Kenya
  4. 4Global Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  5. 5Strategic Coherence for ODA-funded Research, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Trudie Lang; trudie.lang{at}


Introduction In March 2020, the WHO released a Global Research Roadmap in an effort to coordinate and accelerate the global research response to combat COVID-19 based on deliberations of 400 experts across the world. Three months on, the disease and our understanding have both evolved significantly. As we now tackle a pandemic in very different contexts and with increased knowledge, we sought to build on the work of the WHO to gain a more current and global perspective on these initial priorities.

Methods We undertook a mixed methods study seeking the views of the global research community to (1) assess which of the early WHO roadmap priorities are still most pressing; (2) understand whether they are still valid in different settings, regions or countries; and (3) identify any new emerging priorities.

Results Thematic analysis of the significant body of combined data shows the WHO roadmap is globally relevant; however, new important priorities have emerged, in particular, pertinent to low and lower middle-income countries (less resourced countries), where health systems are under significant competing pressures. We also found a shift from prioritising vaccine and therapeutic development towards a focus on assessing the effectiveness, risks, benefits and trust in the variety of public health interventions and measures. Our findings also provide insight into temporal nature of these research priorities, highlighting the urgency of research that can only be undertaken within the period of virus transmission, as well as other important research questions but which can be answered outside the transmission period. Both types of studies are key to help combat this pandemic but also importantly to ensure we are better prepared for the future.

Conclusion We hope these findings will help guide decision-making across the broad research system including the multilateral partners, research funders, public health practitioners, clinicians and civil society.

  • public health
  • other infection
  • disease
  • disorder
  • or injury
  • other study design

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Handling editor Seye Abimbola

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  • Contributors KM, CA, WM, JMA and MA developed the original survey with input from MT; all the authors then contributed to further developing and delivering this global version with oversight from TL. AN and TL guided this analysis along with ADLHG, NC, EA with support from ZA-R and JP. The workshops were delivered by TL and NFdC, with support from ZA-R and JP. TL led the drafting with AN and MT, PP and KM were closely involved throughout and contributed to the draft and review. The other authors contributed significantly and equally in conducting the study and analysing the data. The corresponding author attests that all listed authors meet authorship criteria and that no others meeting the criteria have been omitted. TL is responsible for the overall content as guarantor.

  • Funding The Global Health Network is supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ( Grant number: OPP1169808). The COVID-19 Knowledge hub is supported by a grant from UK Research and Innovation ( Grant number: MC_PC_19073). AN & MT are employees of UKCDR, which receives funds from BEIS, DHSC, DFID, UKRI and Wellcome for its core activities. No other specific funding supported this work. The funders played no role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication. All researchers are independent from funders, and all authors, external and internal, had full access to all of the data in the study and can take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting or dissemination plans of this research. Refer to the Methods section for further details.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval This research was limited to seeking the views of healthcare professionals and research staff; patients and the wider community were not involved. Therefore, this research would be considered 'minimal risk' and does not come under the definition of research involving human subjects. However, this work does still fall with our research methodology and remit for the protocol that is approved by the University of Oxford Research Ethics Committee (OxTREC) protocol number OxTREC 541-18.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available in a public, open access repository. All the data from this study will be openly available on the Global Health Network.

  • Author note The results from the survey were shared with the community through the ‘research priorities’ workshop and the reports from each workshop are being shared on the platform. The wider, cumulative report is being shared online and the release of that will also be widely disseminated. One of our core aims with this research is to make these findings as widely known as possible so that the prioritise that this work highlights translates to studies undertaken by this same community.

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