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International and global health: Remit and science we support


The overarching objective of the MRC’s global health research is to support work that addresses the inequalities in health which arise particularly in developing countries. This is a specific objective of our strategic plan 'Research Changes Lives'.

The MRC supports global health research in a number of ways:

  • through our units, institutes, and centres; grants; fellowships including increasing support for Global Health research in response mode
  • through strategic partnerships with other global and UK funders including for example DfID and the Wellcome Trust in order to achieve the highest quality research that will have the greatest possible impact
  • through working with other research councils to fund multidisciplinary research into global health areas including for example the Global Challenges Research Fund.

MRC supports global health research across the translational pipeline (figure 1).

Figure 1. MRC's Research Funding Schemes across the transnational pipelineWe have supported health research in developing countries for over 80 years and historically the largest proportion of funding was spent on research relating to infections with Malaria and HIV attracting most support, but with a significant spread amongst TB and other infections associated with developing countries.

The changing burdens of disease across the world, such as the increasing emergence of chronic diseases (for example heart disease and diabetes) in developing countries, bring new opportunities for our global health research to benefit health both in the UK and internationally.

We also continue to support nutrition and maternal and reproductive health research and we are providing increasing support for research in non-communicable (chronic) diseases, including through partnerships such as Global Alliance.

Key partners we work with

UK organisations

  • UK Department for International Development (DFID)
  • UK Research Councils
  • Wellcome Trust

International organisations

  • European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership
  • Australia’s National Health Medical Research Council
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Chinese academy of medical sciences
  • European Commission
  • India’s Medical Research Council
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
  • National Health and Medical Research Council
  • South African Medical Research Council
  • US National Institutes of Health 

Global Health research in institutes, units and centres

We have supported global health research projects at these institutes, units and centres, based in the UK and Africa:

  • MRC Clinical Trials Unit
  • MRC Human Immunology Unit
  • MRC National Institute of Medical Research
  • MRC/CRUK/BHF Clinical Trials Services Unit
  • MRC Centre for Genomics and Global Health
  • MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling
  • MRC unit, The Gambia
  • MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit on AIDs

Our global health portfolio

Funding research to improve health globally delivers on the UK commitments to international development while also exploring research questions of relevance to everyone.

MRC supported a portfolio of research awards attributable to ODA with a total value in 2014 of £54.1m. This figure includes a DFID contribution of £4.5m under a concordat agreement (but it does not include our commitment on specific Newton activities).

Breakdown of MRC global health spending in 2012-13:

Parasite 29%, fungal 0.2%, multiple 5%, NCDs 5%, nutrition 8%, reproduction and maternal 4%, bacteria 20%, virus 29%

Our global health portfolio is reported formally by calendar year quarter as a contribution to UK Overseas Development Assistance (ODA). The most recent spending reports are available in the related content on this page.

Download the most recent version of the CY 2014 reported spend:

Increasing support for Global Health research in response mode

In the 2015 Government’s spending review we were asked to increase support to global health to above £80m per year, with funds available for new cross-Council challenge programmes. In 2016 we ran the MRC Global Challenges Research Fund - Foundation Awards which was established to help foster research and partnerships in new areas, and also issuing some targeted calls.

We also want to continue encouraging new research through all of MRC’s response mode schemes – for Programme and Project Grants, Fellowships, and Translational Grants. Extra funding will be available through our main Boards and Panels, and we aim to steadily increase support for global health research through this route over the next four years.

To receive funding as part of our Global Health portfolio:

  • research must be primarily and directly relevant to health problems of developing countries. The primary aims, their importance and tractability, should be addressed in the Case for Support and Pathways to Impact.  The Proposal Form should reflect the global health aims in the Objectives, Summary and Impact Summary
  • research can be “dual use” in the sense that it may also benefit the most developed countries, but the primary aim must be creation of knowledge to improve health in Low or Middle Income countries opens in new window (LMICs)
  • MRC’s reviewers will, as always, critically assess the potential impact on health – in this case in the context of LMICs – when assessing the application
  • research can be basic or applied, long-term or short-term, and we welcome proposals that work across Research Council boundaries
  • the research proposed can be undertaken in UK institutions and in Low and Middle Income Countries. Research collaborations will be essential to address global health challenges in most areas, but not necessarily all. Applications should be led by an eligible UK institution (exceptions will be made in some targeted calls)
  • institutes and Units supported by MRC or other Research Councils are eligible to apply, but must show that the project is additional to their core programme

MRC’s Global Health Group  regularly reviews progress and future needs in global health research, and MRC and RCUK will be issuing more information to guide applicants on best practice, and on areas of particular priority soon.

Official Development Assistance/research principles

All research funded through the GCRF will be part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA). Projects must be primarily relevant to near-term or long-term benefits to the health or prosperity of Low or Middle Income Countries.

The OECD Development Assistance Committee’s list of Official Development Assistance recipients defines the sets of countries whose health needs (individual or collective) are relevant. The research strategies and the approach to partnership and capability development will vary significantly, depending on whether research is oriented towards / conducted with Middle-income or Low income Countries.  

Research should promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective.

Further guidance on ODA definitions and interpretation is available in an RCUK guidance document

Regulation and ethical issues will vary across different countries and should be considered from the outset. The MRC expects grant holders to work within applicable international and local guidelines, and to obtain ethical review in the local country and in the UK.