Institutionalizing Health Systems Research

"Health research becomes more important as the underlying health system also becomes more complex. "

We are so caught up in the contentious headlines of today that we often miss the many uncontentious institution-building activities that this and past administrations have pursued. One of these is the conduct of health systems research, a field that is often shadowed by its counterpart, biomedical research.

Health systems research involves analysis of issues pertaining to health financing and economics, information systems, human resources, pharmaceuticals, health infrastructure, and governance. Research underpins policy, and as the country matures as a middle-income economy, health research becomes more important as the underlying health system also becomes more complex. 

I sat as a member of the DOH health research board during the time of Sec. Enrique Ona when funding for health systems research began to rise, thanks to the requirement for DOH offices to set aside a proportion of their budget for research. These were pooled in a fund under the health policy bureau, which then used it to fund individual researchers. For years, I argued for institutional grants so that we can build our local capacity and train young researchers.

Such a dream started to become real this year. From August 30 to September 1, I participated in a five-member panel that assessed 10 proposals from local institutions which submitted research grant requests on healthy aging, mental health, persons with disabilities, health literacy, health communication, patient safety, drug rehabilitation, health technology assessment, service delivery networks, and hospital performance. Although the proposals are of varying depth, scope, and quality, all of them were important. One wishes, too, that there were proposals on local health financing, and on softer dimensions such as trust in and patient experience of the health system.

The grants will assist local institutions not only to conduct their research studies but also to train young researchers become specialists in their field, and to publish in local and international journals and thereby push up the rankings of local universities. It’s really a win-win situation. Congratulations to the DOH, in collaboration with DOST’s center for health research and development for stewardship in this area.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TheLOBBYiST.
About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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