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Health Systems Research Initiative

Support for research to improve health systems in low- and middle-income countries.
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The Wellcome Trust, the UK Department for International Development, the UK Medical Research Council and the UK Economic and Social Research Council are committed to strengthening the evidence base for improving health in low- and middle-income countries. Together we are investing a total of £15 million over three years to fund research aimed at providing evidence to strengthen health systems and improve health outcomes in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The £15m total funds will be allocated through three annual calls for proposals of £5m per call. The costs of each call will be shared between all four funders.

Health systems in LMICs face the challenges of substantial socioeconomic and health inequalities, rapid globalisation and evolving disease burdens. The aim of the scheme is to fund rigorous, high-quality research that will inform the delivery of evidence-based interventions or structural changes, and provide evidence that is of direct relevance to decision makers and users in the field, in overcoming these challenges.

The scope of the scheme covers a broad range of health systems research questions that address the following principles:

  • Health systems are broad and comprise many elements (e.g. governance, workforce, financing, information systems, products and technologies, and service delivery) and are affected by factors such as health education, community and individual action, the legislative and regulatory context and current and emerging social, economic and cultural circumstances. Applications from multidisciplinary teams are encouraged which address questions within this broader context.
  • All proposals should have health improvement as the main objective.
  • Research should generate practical solutions to implementing health system improvements, including technical, economic, and cultural or governance/managerial components of implementation and sustainability.
  • Projects should identify and address the key barriers to implementation of evidence-based interventions at local and national levels, paving the way for their successful adoption into routine practice with improved access and use by the populations in need.
  • Methodologies will need to be clearly explained and well justified as methodological rigour will be an important aspect of peer review.
  • Priority will be given to research that benefits the most vulnerable populations and/or those in poorly resourced settings.
  • No particular diseases or health-related problems are prioritised for this call. Projects should address ethical, economic, social, cultural and political aspects of the problem as appropriate to the research question.

What's included

A total of £15 million pounds is available. There will be one call each year with a budget of £5m per annum.

Funding may be requested for:

  • all research costs that are attributable to the project
  • costs of hosting project steering and data monitoring committees
  • training and support for a project manager.

Costs will be shared equally between the four funders.

Please refer to the Medical Research Council website for further costs information.


Research should be based in low- or middle-income countries. Research groups based either in the countries where the studies will take place or in the UK are eligible to apply. If the principal investigator is based in the UK, there must be clear partnership with, and scientific leadership from, co-investigators based in the countries where the project will take place.

Please refer to the Medical Research Council website for more information on the eligibility criteria.

Application process

Applications should be submitted to and will be processed by the Medical Research Council on behalf of the four partner agencies. Please refer to the Medical Research Council website for more information on the application process.

Applicants can choose between two proposal types:

1. Full-scale research projects

For up to five years, but the funders would normally expect a project of three to four years with costs of £100 000-£200 000 per year.

There is a two-stage application process for this proposal type.

2. Development grants

Funding is for one to two years and a total budget in the region of £100 000. These grants are tailored to assist interdisciplinary teams to develop robust and competitive proposals through conducting feasibility studies and obtaining preliminary data.

There is a one-stage process for applying for this proposal type. There is no outline phase for development grants.


This is an annual competition. The second call for this scheme will be announced in late 2014, with a submission deadline in early 2015.


Applicants who wish to discuss their proposal informally can do so by contacting Jill Jones ( jill.jones@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk) or Meriel Flint ( meriel.flint@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk) at the Medical Research Council.

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