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International Pharmacy Journal Highlights LIDC's Collaborations

LIDC and its collaborative projects, which bring together natural and social scientists to address complex problems in international development, feature prominently in the latest edition of International Pharmacy Journal, the official journal of the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP). The organisation's interdisciplinary approach and activities chime with the subject of the June issue of the publication: integrated science and collaborative practice. LIDC's beginnings, its thematic programmes (emerging and zoonotic diseases, access to medicines for the poor, and linkages between agriculture and health), and commitment to improving distance learning are all mentioned in the article. LIDC's work is described within the context of a growing interest in recent years for interdisciplinary research for development from funders and academics. Reference is also made to similiar initiatives working across disciplines elsewhere in the UK, including the Glasgow Centre for International Development (GCID), the Edinburgh International Development Centre (EIDC), the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) and Science for Humanity.


Click here to download the full journal. See pages four to nine for the LIDC-related article, entitled The rise of interdisciplinary approaches: How scientists are working together for international development, by Guy Collender, Communications Officer at LIDC.


See below for a summary of the article:


Benefits of working across disciplines

International development encompasses efforts to address a wide range of severe problems in poor countries, including hunger, neglected diseases, illiteracy and corruption. It is an inherently interdisciplinary subject because it faces complex challenges which transcend disciplinary boundaries as they concern both the natural and social sciences. Tackling hunger, for example, not only involves practising better agricultural techniques to improve crop yields, but also an understanding of the economics of food, including pricing and market access. Improving access to medicines for the poor also requires a fusion of disciplines and systems, including medicine development, regulation, distribution and education. Yet for too long researchers have tended to work in their disciplinary silos, rather than uncovering synergies by collaborating with colleagues using different disciplines to investigate similar issues. This development research environment has recently started changing thanks to the growing recognition of the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach. A flurry of new interdisciplinary institutions and networks for international development have been created in the UK in the past few years to encourage researchers to work together in more integrated and collaborative ways.

These novel approaches to improve the theory and practice of development are much needed today, particularly because poverty reduction may become more difficult. The world faces the biggest economic downturn since World War Two, World Bank figures from 2008 show 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, and Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN, has warned that ‘we are not on track’ to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

LIDC and other initiatives
LIDC was conceived to address these problems by facilitating original interdisciplinary research and training. It was established in 2007 with a £3.7 million grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The collaborative project brings together social and natural scientists from across six University of London Colleges in Bloomsbury (Birkbeck, Institute of Education, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, School of Oriental and African StudiesRoyal Veterinary College, and The School of Pharmacy.

Before LIDC was created there were no formal research collaborations in international development between any of the six Bloomsbury Colleges, and only one teaching link. Since then, LIDC has served as a catalyst, bringing together groups of researchers at workshops to explore interests across sectors and disciplines, including emerging and zoonotic diseases, access to medicines, and linkages between agriculture and health. Professor Jeff Waage, Director of LIDC, said: “What makes LIDC distinctive amongst international development centres is the breadth and depth of its scholarship relevant to international development, and its capacity to integrate research and education across the natural, biomedical and social sciences.”

At the Glasgow Centre for International Development (GCID), part of the University of Glasgow, a similar emphasis has been placed on combining disciplines to address development. GCID was also established in 2007 and it promotes development and cross-faculty interdisciplinary research at the university and overseas. A discipline-bridging initiative also exists in the Scottish capital. Established in 2008 with money from the University of Edinburgh’s Internationalisation Fund, the Edinburgh International Development Centre (EIDC) aims to build effective partnerships nationally and internationally, foster education in support of development, and promote multidisciplinary or translational research. 

Interdisciplinary developments have not only been confined to the university sector. For example, the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) brings together key UK funders and stakeholders providing support for the development sciences research base. UKCDS’ interests include climate change and it has recently facilitated a nine-month pilot project in Bangladesh with stakeholders to formulate future research questions.

However, the obstacles to interdisciplinary research must not be downplayed. At present, incentives and the prospects for career progression, particularly in academia, favour specialising in a single discipline. David Dickson, Director of SciDev.Net (Science and Development Network) – a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing reliable and authoritative information about science and technology for the developing world – said: “Funding and reward structures are built around knowledge development rather than problem solving, and knowledge development remains predominantly single-disciplinary, although that is changing.” 

The cumulative impact of recent interdisciplinary initiatives is generating unprecedented interest for cross-cutting research, yet funding constraints and challenges persist. Existing enthusiasm and collaboration now need to be harnessed to create well-rounded solutions to achieve the potential of interdisciplinary work to address problems in the developing world.