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Fourth call for research to improve adolescent health in low and middle income countries

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
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As joint funders of this scheme, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and the Department for International Development are pleased to announce a fourth call for research to improve adolescent health in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). This call is being launched in partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council.

Through this call, up to £8 million will be made available to fund world-class and cutting edge applied research that addresses the health needs of adolescent populations in LMICs.

This call will be open to and particularly encourage applications from principal investigators (PI) based at research organisations in LMICs, as well as from eligible research organisations based in the UK.

There will be a two-stage application process, initially inviting researchers to submit outline proposals to be considered by a review panel. The call for outline proposals will open on 30 May 2019 when specific guidance will be provided. Outline proposals must be submitted via the Je-S System by the call deadline: Tuesday 16 July 2019 16:00 GMT+1.

Awards will build and strengthen research partnerships and promote capacity building in global adolescent health research. Interdisciplinary proposals will be particularly encouraged that address the most pressing health needs of adolescents in LMICs.

Funding for this call forms part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment. Applications must demonstrate the research to be primarily relevant and directly linked to near-term benefits to the health and economic development of LMICs. Applications should articulate a clear and specific case for the relevance of the proposed research to the LMIC and identify and provide evidence that the proposed plan of research is informed by the needs of the LMIC.

Information about previous global adolescent health funding can be found on the adolescent health page.

On this page:


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 interventions can be developed and 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-up, 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. We are happy for proposals to be led by researchers based in the social sciences, or in other disciplines, depending on what is most appropriate to deliver the proposed research.

Basic research relevant to adolescent health, for instance, basic, aetiological, and epidemiological research is not eligible for this call for proposals unless it forms part of a broader applied research project exploring solutions to problems faced by adolescents. Purely basic research proposals and proposals with a primary focus on basic research (>50%) should not be submitted to this call but are 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.

The need to consider a broad range of health issues at this life-stage is increasingly recognised globally. For instance, the 2017 guidance produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN agencies highlights some of the key challenges that faced the world's growing adolescent community.

  • Globally the top five causes of mortality in adolescence were: road traffic injuries, lower respiratory infections, self-harm, diarrhoeal diseases and drowning.
  • The top five global causes of disability-adjusted life years lost by adolescents were iron-deficiency anaemia, road traffic injuries, mental and substance use disorders, lower respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases.
  • There are gender and regional differences. The highest cause of death of girls aged 10-19 was lower respiratory infections followed by self-harm and the highest cause of death in boys in this age-group was road traffic injury followed by interpersonal violence. However, in girls aged 15 to 19, complications in pregnancy were the highest cause of mortality globally, and for example, HIV/AIDS was the fourth highest cause of death among adolescents in African LMICs.

The remit of this programme is therefore broad and funders welcome proposals which address any major health issues of adolescents or where intervening at this point can have future health benefits.

Previous investments under this scheme have focused initially on implementation research in the first call. Following the success of the initial phase, the Department of Health’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) joined the funders to launch the second call to address questions of effectiveness and access to health interventions that will result in improved adolescent health in LMICs. The third call was launched with all three funders and in partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) recognising the need for more interdisciplinary research. Details of previous awards can be found on the MRC website.

Target population

The regional focus for this call is low and middle-income countries as defined in the DAC list of ODA recipients. The research proposed should be designed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable groups within ODA recipient countries.

Adolescence is variably defined by different societies. For this programme adolescence is defined as between the ages of 10-19, but other ranges will be considered where justified. For instance, it may be necessary to address continuity of care before and after adolescence.

Proposals should consider the role 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 population(s) and how the project will provide evidence for improvement of adolescent health.

Remit and scope

This call will support internationally competitive, applied research projects addressing adolescent health in LMICs. The scope of the call is broad reflecting the range and complexity of the challenges faced and the interdisciplinary efforts required.

Although not being limited to these areas, this call particularly welcomes proposals addressing the following topics:

  • research in conflict-affected and fragile states
  • road traffic and other injuries
  • prevention of interpersonal violence
  • self-harm (including suicide)
  • lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia
  • prevention and treatment of substance use (alcohol, tobacco and other drugs)
  • future NCD risk factors (raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, obesity and smoking)
  • nutrition, diet and physical activity
  • disabilities - both mental, intellectual, and physical
  • the transition out of adolescence into adulthood
  • the transition for those in the healthcare system to being looked after by adult services
  • research addressing social (and commercial) determinants of health.

Areas out of remit:

Proposals focusing on basic research including:

  • physiological research
  • aetiological and epidemiological research including clinical/population/cohort research in humans examining causes and determinants of ill health
  • observational research (unless it relates to intervention development or evaluation).

Please note that basic research can be included as part of a broader applied research proposal seeking solutions to the health challenges faced by adolescents but should not be the major focus of the proposal.

Randomised controlled trials and health systems proposals are within remit and eligible to apply, but, may be directed to the MRC-Wellcome-DFID-NIHR Joint Global Health Trials scheme or MRC-Wellcome-DFID-ESRC Health Systems Research Initiative at the outline assessment panel depending on resource demand.

Please note that submission of the same proposal to more than one MRC, ESRC, DFID or NIHR scheme will not be permitted. Resubmissions of revised proposals are allowed if one year has passed between the previous submission and the full proposal deadline for this call. All resubmissions should include a cover letter detailing how the proposal has developed since the previous submission. If peer reviews or panel feedback were provided, your bulleted response to comments should be included in the cover letter.

Applications are particularly encouraged from principal investigators based at LMIC research organisations. Where the application is led by a UK PI, it should include effective, sustainable and equitable partnerships with researchers based in the LMIC location(s) where the research will take place, with strong governance and management processes in place. All applications should demonstrate scientific leadership and intellectual contribution from LMIC investigators with a clear plan for sustaining partnerships beyond the duration of the award.

Applications involving industrial collaborators are eligible and should follow the the MRC Industry Collaboration Agreement (MICA) process. Industrial collaborators cannot be recipients of funding. The role of industrial partners must be clearly explained, with special emphasis on the benefit to LMICs.

Eligible research activities

The research approach taken should be clearly justified in the proposal indicating why the methods you have proposed are appropriate for addressing your research questions. The following research activities are eligible for submission under this call and can be costed in the proposal:

  • developing interventions that explicitly address the immediate health needs of adolescent populations. Clear plans for evaluation should be included within the proposed research activities, or where justified, clearly set out as future activities.
  • research to understand how to modify behaviours that start in adolescence and cause disease in later life
  • evaluating the effectiveness of interventions specifically for adolescents, including adaptation of interventions of known effectiveness in other populations
  • implementation research that addresses issues faced in making interventions of known effectiveness for health outcomes accessible to adolescent populations
  • 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 activities relevant to the core intellectual agenda of the research proposal, focusing on early career researchers through to the development of institutional capacity
  • community and stakeholder engagement activities as a core part of defining the research agenda, determining how the research should be undertaken and its results translated into action
  • networking activities with researchers and other stakeholders.

Capacity building

The joint funders are committed to building research capacity within LMICs and the UK. Invited research grant applicants will be required to complete a capacity building annex as part of their application and will be part of the formal assessment (at the outline stage a short description of proposed activities is required in the case for support).

Examples of capacity building include:

  • increasing capability of staff to work across disciplines and in partnerships
  • support and mentoring for more junior team members
  • building leadership skills amongst early career researchers
  • mentoring to attain policy impact
  • co-design of research and implementation
  • opportunities for those with relevant skills to orient their research towards global issues
  • formation of LMIC research networks
  • building organisational capacity (for example, in management, financial, communications)
  • institutional capacity-building (such as the incentive structures, the political and regulatory context and the resource base in which research is undertaken and used by policymakers).

Please note, it is not possible to support PhD studentships through this scheme.


The total amount available for this call is £8 million.

Research grants are focused projects usually up to three years’ duration with a maximum of five years’ duration. Small and larger-scale projects are invited to apply, the minimum size for projects to be considered is £150,000 (amount requested from funders, taking into account FEC rates) and 12 months duration. We also encourage larger proposals of over £1 million to apply. As a guide, applicants should note that the funders would envisage funding 8-12 projects. It is expected that the awards funded will be of varying sizes.

Key dates

Applications will be accepted through the research council’s Joint Electronic Submission System (Je-S). The proposed timeline for applications will be as follows:

Stage Date

Je-S System opens for submission of outline applications

29 May 2019

Deadline for outline submission 

16 July 2019
16:00 GMT+1

Outline panel meeting

Early September 2019

Je-S System opens for submission of full applications

September 2019

Deadline for invited full submissions Late October 2019

External peer review

November 2019-January 2020

PI response to peer review

February 2020

Full stage panel meeting

March 2020