The SPARKS History

The concept for SPARKS emerged from an identified urgent need to stimulate more research on social protection and TB. In May 2014 the World Health Assembly approved the End TB Strategy, including its target to eliminate catastrophic costs for TB-affected households and its related focus on universal health coverage and social protection. Research, including health systems and social sciences, is one of the pillars of the End TB Strategy.

In November 2014, WHO, Karolinska Institutet and the Government of Sweden organised a global consultation on TB research, which highlighted the urgent need for further research into social protection for people at risk of TB or already suffering from TB. That consultation resulted in a WHO Global Action Framework for the implementation of the research pillar of the End TB Strategy, which called for the creation of international interdisciplinary research networks.

WHO Global TB Research Task Force was established in 2016, which again has highlighted interdisciplinary research on social protection as a priority area. SPARKS is intended to be such an international interdisciplinary research network, and also a network that moves beyond TB, using TB as a tracer for poverty-related diseases with prominent social determinants and consequences.

The SPARKS research network aims to:

1. Generate evidence on the impact, feasibility, acceptability, cost-effectiveness and sustainability of different social protection schemes on poverty-related disease prevention, health care access and mitigation of financial and social consequences of disease.

2. Develop metrics, methods and generic protocols for needs assessment, intervention research and monitoring.

3. Document socioeconomic barriers to health care, as well as socioeconomic consequences of ill health and related health care use, for patients and households.

4. Map social protection platforms and their existing links to the health care sector in order to identify promising intervention entry points.

5. Collate and synthesise scientific evidence and tacit knowledge to help drive policy changes.