Trends in health policy and systems research over the past decade: still too little capacity in low-income countries

PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e27263. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027263. Epub 2011 Nov 22.


Background: The past decade has seen several high-level events and documents committing to strengthening the field of health policy and systems research (HPSR) as a critical input to strengthening health systems. Specifically, they called for increased production, capacity to undertake and funding for HPSR. The objective of this paper is to assess the extent to which progress has been achieved, an important feedback for stakeholders in this field.

Methods and finding: Two sources of data have been used. The first is a bibliometric analysis to assess growth in production of HPSR between 2003 and 2009. The six building blocks of the health system were used to define the scope of this search. The second is a survey of 96 research institutions undertaken in 2010 to assess the capacity and funding availability to undertake HPSR, compared with findings from the same survey undertaken in 2000 and 2008. Both analyses focus on HPSR relevant to low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). Overall, we found an increasing trend of publications on HPSR in LMICs, although only 4% were led by authors from low-income countries (LICs). This is consistent with findings from the institutional survey, where despite improvements in infrastructure of research institutions, a minimal change has been seen in the level of experience of researchers within LIC institutions. Funding availability in LICs has increased notably to institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa; nonetheless, the overall increase has been modest in all regions.

Conclusion: Although progress has been made in both the production and funding availability for HPSR, capacity to undertake the research locally has grown at a much slower pace, particularly in LICs where there is most need for this research. A firm commitment to dedicate a proportion of all future funding for research to building capacity may be the only solution to turn the tide.

MeSH terms

  • Academies and Institutes / economics
  • Academies and Institutes / statistics & numerical data
  • Authorship
  • Bibliometrics
  • Health Care Surveys / trends
  • Health Policy / economics*
  • Health Policy / trends*
  • Health Services Research / economics*
  • Health Services Research / trends*
  • Poverty / economics*
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data*
  • Publications / statistics & numerical data
  • Research Support as Topic / economics
  • Research Support as Topic / trends
  • Time Factors