Real-Time Operational Research: Case Studies from the Field of Tuberculosis and Lessons Learnt
Harries, Anthony D.
Chakaya, Jeremiah Muhwa
Takarinda, Kudakwashe C.
Kumar, Ajay M. V.
Berger, Selma Dar
Rusen, I. D.
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Real-time operational research can be defined as research on strategies or interventions to assess if they are feasible, working as planned, scalable and effective. The research involves primary data collection, periodic analysis during the conduct of the study and dissemination of the findings to policy makers for timely action. This paper aims to illustrate the use of real-time operational research and discuss how to make it happen. Four case studies are presented from the field of tuberculosis. These include (i) mis-registration of recurrent tuberculosis in Malawi; (ii) HIV testing and adjunctive cotrimoxazole to reduce mortality in TB patients in Malawi; (iii) screening TB patients for diabetes mellitus in India; and (iv) mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on TB case detection in capital cities in Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The important ingredients of real-time operational research are sound ethics; relevant research; adherence to international standards of conducting and reporting on research; consideration of comparison groups; timely data collection; dissemination to key stakeholders; capacity building; and funding. Operational research can improve the delivery of established health interventions and ensure the deployment of new interventions as they become available, irrespective of diseases. This is particularly important when public health emergencies, including pandemics, threaten health services