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Dental Research in Pakistan – Barriers too Hard to Cross?

By Dr Sumaiya Hasan

Dentistry is a rapidly progressing field, with clinical advances made every day. Dental research is the foundation of dental education and clinical dental practice. It is, therefore, of paramount importance to consider research as imperative to the progress of the dental health care system.

Where does dental research stand in Pakistan? 

While the developed countries have research as an essential component of dental training, the quality of dental research in Pakistan, is unfortunately compromised. The road from developing a research question until its publication in some renowned journal is not free from hurdles. Some loopholes further complicate it if one is conducting it in some country which lacks behind in research. These limitations are more experienced by postgraduate residents and PhD scholars for whom, research is a mandatory element of the program.

The ‘Research Headaches’:

Undoubtedly, for a researcher performing in an unsuitable environment, the hurdles are no less than headaches. When one problem solves, another pops up, and the final goal-line seems more like a mirage. Few hurdles faced by Pakistani dental researchers are:

1. Lack of equipment: There are very few research setups in Pakistan which are well provided with the required facilities whether its an in-vitro or in-vivo research. The result being the researcher purchasing the expensive equipment from his pocket. In some cases, the equipment may not be available in Pakistan, and the researcher(s) pay for it in foreign currency, thus intensifying the burden on research budget.

2. Limited Technical Support and Supervision: For carrying out research which lies higher in the hierarchy of scientific evidence such as cohort studies, randomised controlled trials and meta-analyses, an expert and experienced supervision is required. Pakistan has excellent clinicians, but not all of them are experts in terms of research technicalities. Therefore, quality supervision (in this regard) is limited. The well trained and well-experienced lab support staff is also a blessing when one plans to perform an experimental study. This blessing is also, unfortunately, scarce.

3. Lack of Understanding of Research at Undergraduate Level:

Research projects are not a mandatory component of undergraduate studies in dentistry. The graduates, therefore, are devoid of basic research concepts. However, newly enrolled students are well aware that involving in research can increase their career prospects. Thus, these graduates are inclined towards cross-sectional studies rather than planning a study which has more weight in terms of a hierarchy of scientific evidence. This, however, does not imply that the cross-sectional studies be devalued.

Research must be integrated into undergraduate studies to produce trained students who will come forward and understand the challenges faced today. Independent learning, writing, and critical appraisal of the existing literature will become accessible by such assimilation of skills. These skills also support in postgraduate studies without wastage of further time in attaining the research skills from a new perspective. 

4. Finance: Research, no matter how simple it is, requires finance. This is not just in Pakistan but all around the globe. Usually, the more valuable the type of study, the more expensive it is. There are several funding organisations and loan opportunities to fulfil these requirements. However, it’s a competitive process for which everyone is not eligible. Moreover, few funding organisations provide grants to studies which satisfy a particular theme. Another dynamic factor in slowing the process of research in the local setting is the publication fee or processing charges. Local and international journal do have publication charges, which many researchers find it challenging to arrange. 

In a Nutshell: 

Aforementioned are merely few hurdles in dental research in Pakistan. There are many other barriers which relatively are more comfortable to overcome. The nation has brilliant minds which bring forward justified and valuable research ideas. However, due to the shortcomings such as those mentioned above, the ideas cannot reach the pages of research journals. In the quest of a favourable environment for conducting research, these brilliant minds strive day and night to enrol into international universities. Yet another hurdle is that not everyone has adequate resources to do so. This, unfortunately, leads to wastage of intellect which can play a pivotal role in the growth of dental research in Pakistan.

-The author is a contributing writer for Dental News Pakistan and can be reached at sumaiya.hasan3@gmail.com.

September 12, 2020

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