Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Health systems research initiative

This programme aims to generate world-class research that focuses on strengthening and improving health systems in low and middle income countries. Research explores the performance of the health system as a whole rather than taking a disease-specific focus.

Partners involved:
Medical Research Council (MRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Wellcome Trust

The scope and what we're doing

Launched in 2013, the Health Systems Research Initiative aims to generate world-class research that addresses key questions on strengthening and improving health systems in developing countries.

Health systems research addresses questions that are not disease-specific but concern issues that have repercussions on the performance of the health system as a whole. We recognise that health systems are complex, and include not only formal healthcare delivery systems (public or private), but also other factors. These include:

  • health education
  • community and individual action
  • the regulatory and legislative context
  • the existing and emerging social, economic and cultural circumstances.

Research questions focus on understanding these broader health system links. They describe how and why findings from the project have the potential to improve people’s health in low and middle income countries. Proposals demonstrate how interventions relate to and affect wider elements of a health system such as governance, financing, health workforce, information systems, and service delivery.

The programme funded methodologically rigorous, high quality research that will:

  • generate evidence on how to strengthen and improve health systems for people living in low and middle income countries
  • use a health systems approach to inform the delivery of evidence-based interventions or structural changes
  • provide evidence that is of direct relevance to decision makers and practitioners in the field.

Opportunities, support and resources available

The present funding partnership is coming to a close, meaning there are no further funding opportunities under this initiative.

This is still an important area for MRC and our partners and we are working together to explore what next. If you would like to discuss the future of health systems research funding, email Caroline Harris at

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Past awards

There have been six successful funding opportunities for this programme.

Find details of previously funded projects.

Health Systems Research Initiative scheme review

After completing six funding rounds, the joint funders commissioned an independent review of the scheme. This was to understand the impact of Health Systems Research Initiative (HSRI) funding and to determine if it was delivering its core aims.

The review concluded that overall, the HSRI objectives are being met. Methodologically rigorous and high-quality health policy and systems research is being funded, leading to:

  • growth in the body of evidence on health systems strengthening in low and middle income countries (LMIC)
  • delivery of evidence-based interventions or health system reforms
  • evidence relevant for LMIC decision makers and practitioners
  • capacity development among both researchers and research users.

Read the summary, full report and see accompanying infographics.

Read the related blog: ‘Why strengthening health systems is vital across the world’.

Who to contact

Ask a question about the programme


Last updated: 27 July 2023

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