Views from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Health Systems Global – building capacity for innovative research

Post submitted by Dr Dina Balabanova, Senior Lecturer in Health Systems/Policy

Recent years have seen a lot of debate on the need for strengthening health systems and channelling investment into system-wide interventions and policies. Failure to make sufficient progress on MDGs 4 and 5 has triggered interest and investment in health systems.

The launch of Health Systems Global

The launch of Health Systems Global

‘Health systems’ is a growing and increasingly distinct thematic area of research, and the two Global Symposia on Health Systems Research (Montreux, 2010 and Beijing 2012), attracting more than 1200 participants each, provided a unique opportunity to initiate dialogue in this area.

The Symposia demonstrated that there is a huge interest in understanding how health systems operate and how they hamper or enable implementation of life saving interventions. A clear message is emerging that health systems are central to improving health worldwide and achieving universal coverage. However, the Symposia also showed how despite the enthusiasm and a recognition that this is an important area, we are still in an unchartered territory.

There is work to be done on defining what health systems research is. While there is recognition that health systems are complex, ever changing but also constrained by their history, the questions remain about what rigorous health systems research is and what research methods are appropriate. Evidence and research funding for health systems research remain scarce.

Seeking to address these gaps, a new research society, Health Systems Global, was launched in Beijing on 3 November. The board of the Society was elected by its members. It is chaired by Irene Agyepong, University of Ghana School of Public Health. Two of the 11 board members, Anne Mills and Dina Balabanova, are from the School.

The key goal of Health Systems Global over the next three years is to enhance the credibility and capacity for health systems research through promotion of high-quality and innovative research. It will seek to create communities of practice in research, teaching and implementation, promoting multi-disciplinary approaches applicable to real life system-wide problems.

The society will establish platforms for dissemination of evidence, and enable sharing lessons from country experiences and translating this knowledge to the needs of policy makers and practitioners. This is a huge task, which can only be attempted in partnerships with others and expanding the constituency of the society. Ultimately it is our hope that Health Systems Global will contribute to an increasing commitment by national governments and funders to rebuild health systems as a means of achieving better health for all.

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