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Health Systems and Health Policy Research Group

Research Group

Main organisation:Department of Public Health
Lifecycle:1 Jan 1990 →  Today
Organisation profile:Objectives

The Health Systems & Health Policy Group aims at making health systems more people-centered, integrated, accountable, equitable and resilient. Through our research, educational and service delivery activities, we aim at improving health policies and systems so that the right to health and Universal Health Coverage is guaranteed to all people.

We contribute to policies, programmes and local health systems that lead to responsive, equitable and high-quality care. In all our work, we consider social, political and cultural determinants of health and their effects on vulnerable groups, as well as the planetary boundaries.

Our work is inspired by the values of Primary Health Care (Declaration of Alma Ata and Astana). In practice, we create strong synergies between our research, education and capacity strengthening activities, co-producing, synthesizing and disseminating knowledge on people-centered health systems, policies and programmes to an audience beyond academics.

We adopt a systems approach that focuses on the interfaces between policies, programmes, services, people, communities and the environment. Our current focus is on the organization of local (district) health systems, national and global health (workforce) policy formulation and implementation, universal health coverage and equity, governance and accountability, health in fragile settings and research methodology for complex problems. Cross cutting these themes are the focal areas of eco-health (including urban health and climate change), mental health and vulnerable groups/communities. Decolonization and coloniality are another cross-cutting concerns.

Our group consists of the Complexity and Health Unit, Health Policy Unit and the Equity and Health Unit. These multi-disciplinary units bring together talent from all over the world and from disciplines ranging from political science, sociology, anthropology and management to medicine, nursing and public health.

Our methodological expertise centres around (policy) implementation science, political-economy analysis, participatory action research, complexity and theory-driven evaluation (including realist evaluation). We apply this for example in studies of policy implementation (Results4TB, Scuby), quality of care interventions (Alert), equity (Theta project, India), urban health governance (CREDO programme, RDC), health system strengthening (HSTP, India, AR & HSS, Mauretania - watch video) and global health diplomacy. We use the same approach on infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, a case par excellence where complex systems thinking is a must, and priority essential services, including services for maternal, neonatal and child health, HIV/AIDS, TB, diabetes and other NCDs to investigate how health systems can contribute to their management.

Current research objectives

  1. To develop and test complex-sensitive models for governance and accountability at local, national and global level
  2. To assess the formulation, implementation and scaling up of policies and programmes for UHC, health system strengthening and disease control
  3. To assess (strategies to improve) health system resilience in fragile settings, complex emergencies and urban settings
  4. To develop better evidence on how quality of care can be improved in low-resource settings
  5. To identify and test effective national and local (urban) health system models that include an eco-health perspective
  6. To develop research methodologies for complexity in health, including the further development of realist evaluation

Teaching is an important part of our portfolio. We are organizing and teaching the following modules:

  • Introduction to International Health (Tropical Medicine and International Health postgraduate certificate course, ITM): Fundamentals of Public Health.
  • MSc Public Health, ITM
    • Health Systems and Health Policy (5 weeks) and Health problems and programmes (5 weeks)
    • Health Policy and Systems Research Methodology (3 weeks)
    • Health Policy and Governance (3 weeks)
    • Health Economics & Financing for UHC (3 weeks)
    • Social Protection in Health for Universal Health Coverage (3 weeks)
    • Globalisation & Health (3 weeks)
    • Health Systems Performance Analysis (3 weeks)
    • Health Systems Strengthening (3 weeks)
    • Pharmaceutical policies in health systems (3 weeks)
  • PhD studies: On average, 14 PhD students are supervised by our staff at any point in time.
  • Our staff teaches abroad, for instance at Sciences Po (Paris), Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique (Rennes), Maastricht University, Fordham University (New York) and at EMRO.
Capacity development

We are actively involved in capacity development programmes and service delivery. Within the Framework Agreement programme, we support our partners in Cambodia, Bénin, Guinée, DR Congo and South Africa. We currently also support the AI-PASS project in Mauretania.

We have close and longstanding ties with a number of partners, including the Institute of Public Health, Bengaluru (India), the Centre de Recherche en Reproduction Humaine et en Démographie CERRHUD (Benin), CNFRSR Maferinyah (Guinée), the African Centre of Excellence for the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases (CEA-PCMT) (Guinée), the National Institute of Public Health (Cambodia), the Makerere School of Public Health (Uganda), the School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape (Cape Town), the School of Public Health, Lubumbashi, the CCSC Kinshasa, and the National Health Security Office, Ministry of Health (Thailand).

We publish the weekly International Health Policies newsletter, and founded and support the Emerging Voices for Global Health network. We are engaged in networks like Collectivity, Health Systems Global (Shapes), ITM’s alumni network, MedicusMundi and the Geneva Global Health Hub, through which we maintain a unique relation with public health experts and policymakers around the world.

These connections and our research projects inform our policy advice to a range of partners including the Belgium Government, besides feeding into our teaching activities. We cover the global health and planetary health agendas, as well as pharmaceutical policies and ethics.