It is crucial that the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) continues to develop and fund scholarship programs that support health researchers from Indigenous backgrounds, according to an article in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.
According to the article authors, capacity building among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers will be facilitated by funding mechanisms that integrate mentorship, applied research, and training in grantsmanship.
Ms Sophia Leon de la Barra from the University of Sydney and Professor Sally Redman CEO of the Sax Institute and their co-authors studied NHMRC support for Indigenous health research and Indigenous health researchers between 1996 and 2006.
The NHMRC expends approximately a fifth of its annual research budget on scholarships and fellowships, known as People Support awards.
In 2002, the Council committed to spending at least five per cent of its budget on Indigenous health research.
Ms Leon de la Barra said funding to support Indigenous health research through the People Support scheme has increased since the NHMRC adopted this policy change in 2002.
"The proportion of funds allocated to Indigenous health research increased from 1.4 per cent of annual expenditure in 2001 to 2.9 per cent in 2006, but it has not reached the five per cent funding target."
The authors found the increased funding for Indigenous health research through People Support has almost exclusively supported increased numbers of researchers from non-Indigenous backgrounds.
Ms Leon de la Barra said the NHMRC Capacity Building Grants in Population Health Research - that support early career researchers in a team environment - have been a more effective vehicle for funding researchers from Indigenous backgrounds.
However, the long-term future of this funding vehicle is unclear, and if the Capacity Building Grants are not continued, additional NHMRC programs will be needed to continue the growth in the number of Indigenous researchers supported by the NHMRC.
The Medical Journal of Australia
is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.