The year 1999 represents a significant landmark in the history of J N Medical College, Belgaum. Spurred by the encouragement of Dr Prabhakar Kore, MP, the visionary Chairman of KLE Society, an academic collaboration was established with the University of Illinois at Chicago, USA. The major emphasis of the collaboration was to strengthen Medical Education as well as develop research capacity and clinical care services in Maternal and Child Health. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, USA for the first time ever formed a Global Network for Women’s and Children’s Health Research in the year 2001. The Global Network was established largely due to a benevolent endowment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for improving the standards of women’s and children’s health care in developing countries. In response to this initiative, JNMC, in collaboration with UIC, submitted a research proposal for funding. JNMC has the unique distinction of being selected as one of the original ten sites in the network from India, Pakistan, Tibet, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Guatemala for the initial five years of funding. While traditionally NIH funding has been restricted to Governmental agencies, JNMC is the only private institution to receive the research grant. Under the aegis of the Global Network project, a Women’s and Children’s Health Research Unit was established. This has enabled the creation of an international multi-disciplinary research team of clinicians, basic scientists, public health experts, and information technology specialists supporting the development of research protocols, the results of which have global impact on the health of women and children. Based on its commendable performance during the first cycle, the ‘Research Unit’ is one of the six among the ten sites to be refunded for a second cycle of five years until 2012.
The past seven years have been marked by the establishment of a newly constructed ‘Research Unit’ at JNMC, the setting up of five regional data centers throughout the district, training of dedicated research faculty and the strengthening of Institutional Review Board mechanisms; all essential components of research capacity building and infrastructure development. The research unit has developed a Study Management System, comprising electronic data entry and management, for monitoring the process evaluation. The research unit has forged a strong Public Private Partnership with the Belgaum District Health Administration for implementing community based interventions impacting maternal and child health. At present, the research unit serves a population of over 670,000 residing in 231 villages spread over eight talukas of Belgaum district. This population is served by 32 Primary Health Centers and the health workers have been trained for ethical conduct of research and data collection. This has enabled the promotion of public health research skills among district health functionaries and has permitted close partnership between the research team and the rural health care system. This community based research network offers an ideal platform for testing evidence based intervention for impacting the health outcomes of this under-served population.