Improving Health Systems Strengthening and Policy Research Capacities in Asia

As Asian countries implement health sector reforms and advance towards universal health coverage (UHC), their demand for health systems strengthening (HSS) best practices, sharing of country experiences, and technical assistance is increasing. Countries want to strengthen the capacities of their health policy and systems research institutions (HSPRIs) to generate health systems research and translate new (or existing) evidence into policy. Although there are learning platforms and HSS capacity strengthening programs existing within the region that can respond to this demand, practical challenges in meeting this demand persist. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need for strong HSPR and collaboration among researchers and policymakers to minimize disruptions to health systems and move toward more resilient health systems in the long-term.

To support the development and sustainability of promising HSS learning platforms and HSPRIs in Asia, the Accelerator has conducted a landscaping within the region to identify the range of operational models for evidence generation and knowledge translation at country and regional levels, describe the current ecosystem for HSS learning and capacity strengthening, and identify opportunities for more collaboration among local, regional and global initiatives supporting HSS capacity development.

Through this landscaping, the Accelerator found a large existing ecosystem for HSPR across the region, with over 70 HSPRIs operating across 20+ countries. HSPRIs play a critical role in diagnosing local HSS challenges and generating HSS evidence to be used to inform programming and policy. However, across this ecosystem, many HSPRIs often play smaller roles within the evidence translation process, highlighting the need for more support in facilitating productive interactions between researchers and policymakers in creating and operationalizing evidence-based policy. The Accelerator also consulted global and regional leaders in HSS capacity strengthening programs and platforms to identify key needs and core institutional functions to institutionalize HSS and HSPR training capacities within the region.

Common challenges include the gap in the capacity of HSPRIs to translate evidence into policy, lack of continued mentorship support following training or knowledge exchanges, and fragmentation among different platforms limiting the current ecosystem to fully respond to the range of capacities needed to effectively produce and translate HSS evidence. There are opportunities for existing HSS programs and platforms to focus more on strengthening HSPRI capacities in evidence translation, develop improved models for structured follow-up and continuous learning following completion of a specific course or program, and improve coordination and alignment of curriculum and approaches across the fragmented platforms and programs.

Looking ahead, the Accelerator will use these findings to facilitate the co-creation of approaches among HSPRIs, HSS learning programs and platforms, and other health sector stakeholders across the region to strengthen the practical generation and translation of HSS evidence into policymaking and practice. The Accelerator will convene key stakeholders at global and regional levels to co-create enhanced models of supporting HSPRIs and country-level health leaders to address these observed challenges with the broader goal of building locally contextualized and sustainable processes for generating and using HSPR to strengthen health systems across Asia.