The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for countries across to world to strengthen their health systems by embedding evidence-based research into every decision-making process.
The WHO launched two documents detailing both the importance of this strategy and recommendations on how to implement it, at the Second Global Symposium on Health Systems Research held in Beijing, China, saying they represent a ”unique milestone in the evolution of health policy and systems research”.
The strategy has three broad aims, which seek to improve the way health policies are created and ensure they are based on the most up-to-date, relevant research and recommendations.
First, the WHO wants to see the unification of both research and decision-making, instilling the importance of research into decision-makers at all levels of the health system - from national policy-makers to front line providers of health services.
To aid this, health policy and systems research must be demand-driven, and satisfy the needs of modern healthcare systems.
Secondly, the WHO says its strategy aims to clarify both the scope and role of health policy and systems research to help stakeholders understand its significance.
The third aim is for the strategy to serve as an “agent for change”, actively boosting the influence of policy and systems research in achieving universal health coverage throughout the world.
The first of the two documents launched by the WHO at Second Global Symposium on Health Systems Research is Changing Mindsets, which describes the importance of this research and how it has helped influence policy already.
This includes such case studies as in India when, after studies demonstrated growing impoverishment related to health spending and high rates of maternal and infant mortality, the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) was set up to enable federal funding to states and improve the primary health care in the country.
Mexico was also recognised as a country that has embedded research within decision-making processes through the establishment of the National Institute of Public Health (INSP) – an institute set up specifically to address research that could inform public health practice and policy.
The WHO's second document, Options for Actions, outlines a number of options for stakeholders to implement the use of research in any decisions made about healthcare systems.
These include creating opportunities for greater engagement and collaboration between researchers and policy-makers, as well as establishing institutional mechanisms within all stages of the policy process that explicitly refer to research evidence.
Research should also be prioritised where it is needed most through the use of national platforms to identify specific areas of healthcare where improvement is necessary. This process should be systematic and transparent, said the report, and should involve consultations with a wide range of stakeholders.
“This strategy on health policy and systems research is intended to augment and amplify WHO's previous affirmations on the importance of health research, by explaining how this evolving field is sensitive and responsive to the needs of those who are responsible for the planning and performance of national health systems – decision-makers, health practitioners, citizens and civil society,” said the WHO.
“By doing so, it does not move away from the field of health research – it aims to move the field ahead.”