Health Systems Research Initiative: Providing Evidence to Strengthen Health Systems

Deadline: 14 February 2019

The Department of International Development (DFID), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Wellcome have jointly fund the Health Systems Research Initiative.


  • generate evidence on how to strengthen and improve health systems for people living in low and middle income countries (LMIC). This may include addressing the structure and dynamics of health systems as a whole, improving the long-term resilience of the health system, in addition to generating positive improvements to systems as currently structured.
  • use a health systems approach to inform the delivery of evidence-based interventions or structural changes. Proposals must demonstrate how interventions relate to and affect wider elements of a health system such as governance, financing, health workforce, information systems, service delivery.
  • expand the knowledge base in understanding the structure and dynamics of health systems and provide evidence that is of direct relevance to decision makers and practitioners in the field.

Types of Grants

  • Research grants, which are larger stand-alone research projects. Proposals are expected to address clearly defined challenges faced by health systems, either within a system or in considering external influences on a system. Proposals must situate this clearly-defined challenge within an understanding of the broader health system linkages and describe how and why findings from the project have the potential to improve the health of people living in low and middle income countries.
  • Foundation grants, which are smaller (up to £200,000) and shorter (up to two years). Proposals can be either:
    • exploratory, for example, looking into existing health systems and investigating the underlying causes beneath perceived problems
    • to conduct pilot work to build the necessary knowledge and methodological base to support a future full proposal.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Priority will be given to research that benefits the most vulnerable populations and/or those in poorly resourced settings. Whilst the funders recognise that many of the world’s poor live in middle-income countries, it is a specific objective of this programme to increase the body of research that is specifically relevant to low-income countries, whether through research in those countries or the ability to demonstrate the relevance of experience from middle-income countries to low-income countries. Applicants must illustrate how the proposed study will contribute to strengthening low-income country health systems.
  • If the principal investigator (PI) is based in the UK, there must be clear partnership with, and scientific leadership from, co-investigators (Co-Is) based in the countries where the project will take place.
  • Proposals should demonstrate how capacity building for junior UK and developing country staff will lead to developing future scientific leadership. Good examples of capacity-building include:
    • co-design of research and implementation
    • field-based research methods training for developing country partner staff
    • opportunities for staff to author/co-author journal and conference papers and participate in national and international conferences
    • providing mentoring to improve the capacity of Southern researchers to generate new knowledge and attain policy impact
    • 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).
  • UK investigators should demonstrate an understanding of the national and local health systems context, and work harmoniously and effectively with local stakeholders to ensure the research programme does not undermine local research capacity. These factors will be taken into account by the commissioning panel.

How to Apply

Applicants can apply electronically via given website.

For more information, please visit

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