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Third call for research to improve adolescent health in LMIC settings

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
View all OPEN opportunities

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The MRC, in partnership with the National Institute for Health Research, the Department for International Development, and the Economic and Social Research Council , is pleased to announce a third call to fund research grants to improve adolescent health in low and middle income countries (LMICs). Originally launched in 2015, this programme now represents a partnership between all four funders and aims to fund world-class and cutting-edge research which addresses the specific health needs of adolescents.

Together the funders have agreed to commit £4 million to this scheme, with the possibility of extra funds dependent on quality.

Applications are particularly encouraged from principal investigators (PI) based at organisations in LMICs, as highlighted in the DAC List of ODA Recipients, as well as from eligible research organisations based in the UK. LMIC Principal Investigators are encouraged to contact the office for further guidance on the submission process.
Proposals must be submitted via the Je-S System by the call deadline: 16:00 BST Tuesday 18 September 2018.

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This call for proposals seeks to provide the research evidence needed to effect real and practical changes to improve adolescent health in LMICs.

Applicants should clearly identify the health issues and/or risk factors to be addressed. Proposals should explore how outcomes will be implemented within systems and seek to engage with related social and economic barriers within these systems. Applicants should describe the pathway for how the proposed approach can be scaled, as well as highlighting any potential generalisability of findings to improve the health of adolescents in other settings.

We encourage genuine interdisciplinary collaborations across social science, biomedical science and other disciplines including health economics and political science.

Basic research relevant to adolescent health, for instance basic, aetiological, and epidemiological research is not eligible for this call for proposals but is welcome for submission to the MRC through our standard research boards and panels.


Adolescence is a unique time in the life-course. There are many opportunities to better tailor existing health improvement strategies and develop new strategies to ensure they serve the needs of specific adolescent groups. By improving health at this crucial stage there is potential to have an effect on adolescents’ future health and that of their future children. For example, a major emerging theme for improving maternal, neonatal and child health is to improve health at the pre-conception phase. By intervening at adolescence there is potential to improve adolescent girls’ health, have a preventative impact for their future health, and to improve maternal and neonatal outcomes.

The aim to improve maternal and child health is an important part of the programme but is not the sole focus. The need to consider a broad range of health issues at this life-stage is increasingly recognised globally. For instance, the 2014 World Health Organization (WHO) report Health for the world’s adolescents highlights some of the key challenges facing the world's growing adolescent community.

  • Globally the top five causes of mortality in adolescence are: road injuries, HIV/AIDS, self-harm, lower respiratory infections and interpersonal violence.
  • Depression, road injuries, iron-deficiency anaemia, HIV/AIDS and self-harm are the top five global causes of disability-adjusted life years lost for adolescents.
  • There are gender and regional differences. For instance, in girls aged 15 to 19 complications in pregnancy are the second highest cause of mortality globally. The highest cause of death of girls in this age group is self-harm and the highest cause of death in boys in this age-group is road injury.

The remit of this programme is therefore broad and funders welcome proposals which address any major health issues that emerge at the adolescent phase of life.

Previous investments under this scheme have focused initially on implementation research in the first call. Five awards were made through this programme. Following the success of the initial phase, the NIHR joined the funders to launch a second call to address questions of effectiveness and access to health interventions that will result in improved adolescent health in LMICs. Ten awards were made through this programme.

Target population

The regional focus for this call is LMICs as defined in the DAC list of Official Development Assistance (ODA) recipients. The research proposed should be designed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable groups within ODA recipient countries.

For this programme adolescence is defined as between the ages of 10 and 19, although for some instances it may be appropriate to consider issues for a wider age group. For example, it may be necessary to address continuity of care before and after adolescence.

Proposals should consider the impact of gender on the adolescent health trajectory. Some individual proposals may have a reason to focus on one gender, however it is our intention to have a mixed portfolio of projects across the programme. If proposals focus on one gender, the reason for this should be justified in the proposal.

Please justify clearly in your proposal why you have chosen the selected populations and how the project will provide evidence for improvement of adolescent health.


We will accept proposals from principal investigators based in LMICs and UK research organisations. If the principal investigator is based in the UK, there must be clear partnership with, and scientific leadership from, co-investigators based in the LMIC where the project will take place.

Areas of particular research interest include:

  • migration, displaced, and refugee populations
  • research in conflict-affected and fragile states
  • disabilities - both mental, intellectual, and physical
  • mental health
  • unintentional and intentional injury
  • addiction
  • tobacco
  • maternal health
  • sexual and reproductive health
  • respiratory health
  • neurodevelopmental disorders
  • environmental exposures (such as endocrine disruptors)
  • anaemia
  • chronic disease (cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, etc.)
  • biomarkers for adolescent disorders (such as nutrition)
  • transitioning out of adolescence and quality of care during transition to adult specialists
  • adolescent friendly health services
  • health consequences of urbanisation.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to explore opportunities to consider:

  • innovative and novel approaches – applicants may wish to consider proposing a milestone where the level of research risk is deemed high, or where one element of the proposal is entirely dependent on the success of another
  • interventions with a preventative focus
  • effectiveness studies
  • implementation research
  • intersectoral applications, such as education and health
  • interdisciplinary collaborations across social science, biomedical science, and other disciplines including health economics and political science
  • the social determinants of health and how these affect health as well as access and uptake of healthcare by adolescent populations
  • using a range of quantitative and qualitative methods
  • inclusion of innovative technologies and devices
  • engaging adolescents and policy stakeholders in the development of research questions, plans and dissemination
  • collection of disaggregated data and submission to data repositories.

Funding available

The total amount available for this call is £4 million, with the possibility of extra funds, dependent on quality.

Research grants are focused projects usually up to three years’ duration with a maximum of five years’ duration. There are no set budget limits; small and larger-scale projects are invited. As a guide, applicants should note that the funders would envisage funding 10-12 projects. It is expected that the awards funded will be of varying sizes.

Eligible research activities

The research approach taken should be clearly justified in the proposal indicating why it is the most appropriate and robust methodology to address the proposed research questions. The following research activities are eligible for submission under this scheme:

  • developing complex interventions that explicitly address health needs of adolescent populations
  • using methodologies to assess the effectiveness of interventions specifically for adolescents, including adaptation of interventions of known effectiveness in other populations
  • implementation research questions that address issues faced in making interventions of known effectiveness accessible to adolescent populations within the health system
  • research that explores health system barriers to effective healthcare for adolescents, including user and provider perspectives, social and economic barriers, as well as policy and governance challenges
  • capacity building, networking and community engagement.

All funders are committed to supporting capacity building in research and encourage proposals that incorporate capacity building within the whole project of work. Capacity-building elements should be set out in relation to the core intellectual agenda of the research proposal and not treated separately. The focus should be on the quality and impact of the research, and how increasing research capacity contributes to this. Proposals should demonstrate how capacity building for junior UK and LMIC researchers will lead to developing future scientific leadership.

When developing proposals, applicants should consider the specific fit to the call in the context of existing schemes such as the Health Systems Research Initiative and Joint Global Health Trials.

Where a large scale trial is proposed, please consult the office prior to submission.

Please note that submission of the same proposal to more than one MRC scheme will not be permitted.

Key dates

Applications will be accepted through the research councils' Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S). The timeline for applications will be as follows:

Open date 25 June 2018
Closing date 18 September 2018
Triage/shortlisting February 2019
Meeting date March 2019

How to apply

Proposals must be submitted to Je-S by the call deadline: 16:00 BST Tuesday 18 September 2018.

Application guidance

Read our scheme specific guidance document for more information. Where guidance differs the scheme specific guidance should be followed.

Contact details

Applicants are welcome to contact MRC Head Office for further information:

Catalina Toma, MRC Strategy Support Officer
+44 (0)1793 41 6434