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[MONTREUX, SWITZERLAND] Research on how to improve health delivery and health outcomes has been neglected and must be put on researchers' agendas, a WHO expert has said ahead of the first global meeting on such research.

The First Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, organised by the WHO this week (16–19 November) in Montreux, Switzerland, aims to establish health systems research as a "third pole" of health research, alongside biomedical and clinical research.

Tim Evans, WHO's outgoing assistant director general for information, evidence and research, told SciDev.Net that scientific research is needed to ensure that everyone benefits from healthcare delivery.

The symposium aims to dispel the idea that healthcare delivery is a 'common sense' problem unrelated to high-quality science, said Evans, who chairs the meeting's steering committee.

The meeting is expected to be "a watershed" in sharing evidence on how to use science to accelerate health coverage, he added.

Over 1,300 researchers from 100 countries will gather to provide evidence-based information to policymakers on how to expand the reach of healthcare systems in developing countries.

The symposium will address how to evaluate the strength of evidence before using it in health-related policymaking. It is also expected to generate ideas for research and to foster international studies on health systems.

Research into healthcare delivery "needs to mature and set standards for itself", said Evans. It must also link up with economics and social sciences to help develop more holistic health policies.

In many poor communities people pay almost 60 per cent of health expenses from their own pockets, said Evans, adding that the present system impoverishes 100 million people every year.

Ritu Priya Mehrotra of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, told SciDev.Net: "There is a sense of crisis in health systems in developing countries because they are not able to deliver good-quality services or access to services to all".

One reason is that universal coverage is too expensive for many countries. Another is that recommendations by funding agencies to withdraw publicly funded subsidies in social sectors, such as health and education, have made the situation worse, she said. Developing countries also face workforce shortages and rising prices for drugs and vaccines.

We need to address health systems research, she said. "But it is also important to be alert to what the thrust of such research is, who is at the helm, and what direction it takes."

Watch a video interview with Tim Evans (video by WHO)