A New ICUDDR Program Promotes Research in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

In 2022, the International Consortium of Universities for Drug Demand Reduction (ICUDDR), with funding from the NIDA International Program, conducted a mini-grant project designed to promote research in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The program aimed to understand the barriers to conducting research in those countries, improve their research capacity, and increase research collaboration between scientists in the United States and in LMICs.

To learn more about the barriers and facilitators to conducting research in LMICs, an ICUDDR workgroup together with NIDA staff developed an online membership survey. Available in English and Spanish, the survey was distributed to all ICUDDR members and yielded 242 responses.

Among several possible barriers to conducting research, respondents identified lack of funding as the most important one. This lack of funding was attributed mainly to difficulties in finding international partners in countries with available funding, but lack of knowledge of where to seek funding and lack of grant-writing skills also played a role. Other commonly mentioned barriers included lack of skilled personnel and lack of research environment. Qualitative analysis of additional open-ended questions revealed bias as the most frequently cited barrier, followed by funder-created barriers, workforce barriers, political barriers, financial knowledge barriers, and educational barriers. Moreover, regional differences in the most commonly cited barriers existed between African, Asian Pacific, and Latin American/Caribbean countries. After further analyses, the survey information collected will be analyzed further and used as the basis for a publication.

To improve research capacity in LMICs, the project awarded five project-planning mini grants of $5,000 each to researchers from those countries. The goal of the grants was to allow the grantees to apply for funding in response to a NIDA Notice of Special Interest on international research. To invite applicants, an ICUDDR panel developed a request for proposals, which was shared on a public website and advertised through multiple channels; additionally, ICUDDR hosted two bidders’ conferences.

The request yielded 13 applications submitted by researchers from Malaysia, India, Nigeria, and Kenya. From these, the ICUDDR panel selected Dr. Charles T. Orjiakor and Dr. Stephen Asatsa from Nigeria; Dr. Gladys Bett and Dr. Valentine Ucheagwu from Kenya; and Dr. U. Venkatesh from India. In addition to the financial support, the grantees were offered three webinars on topics such as NIDA research priorities; international research partnerships; and publishing, policymaking, and promotion. Additionally, the grantees were invited to participate in the 2022 NIDA International Forum and ICUDDR’s learning collaborative, Publishing Addiction Science. Grantees also received travel grants to the International Society of Substance Use Professionals (ISSUP)/ICUDDR conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which three of the grantees attended. The applicants who did not receive grants also were invited to attend the webinars and the NIDA International Forum and to join the Publishing Addiction Science learning collaborative.

The project also promoted research collaborations between the five grantees and scientists in the United States, who would serve as research partner-mentors and assist the grantees with the further development of their research proposals as well as with preparing preliminary research for publication. The pairings were selected based on the grantees’ research area of interest and specific needs.

Dr. Orjiakor was paired with Dr. Joseph Palamar of New York University; Dr. Asatsa with Dr. Sara J. Becker of Northwestern University; Dr. Bett with Dr. Katarina Guttmannova of the University of Washington; Dr. Ucheagwu with Dr. Nelly Alia-Klein of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Dr. Eric Garland of the University of Utah; and Dr. Venkatesh with Dr. Jennifer Pearson of the University of Nevada, Reno. ICUDDR facilitated the contact between the grantees and their mentor-partners through remote conferencing. Additionally, all grantees, with support from their mentor-partners, have prepared drafts of their research findings for publication.