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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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This call for proposals is the second of three annual Health Systems Research Initiative calls, jointly supported by the Department for International Development (DFID), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust.

The aim of this initiative is to fund rigorous, high quality research that will:

  • generate evidence on how to strengthen health systems in order to improve health outcomes in low- and middle-income countries
  • use a health systems approach to inform the delivery of evidence-based interventions or structural changes
  • provide evidence that is of direct relevance to decision makers and users in the field.

Health systems in LMICs face the challenges of substantial socioeconomic and health inequalities, rapid globalisation and evolving disease burdens. A robust evidence base is required to underpin health systems strengthening and delivery of health interventions in the context of these challenges.

The call is intended to fund research addressing a broad range of health systems research questions that address the principles outlined below.

  • Health systems are broad and comprise many elements (such as governance, workforce, financing, information systems, products and technologies, 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.
  • The call is open to research that addresses questions within this broader context and we particularly encourage applications from multidisciplinary teams.
  • Proposals should clarify what health system challenge is being addressed and how the research question and proposed work would address that challenge. Proposals should describe how and why the findings of the project would have the potential to improve health.
  • Research should meet the demands of decision makers and/or users in the field. Potential pathways for translation into policy and practice should be included in the project description. Applicants should identify key factors relevant to replication and scale-up.
  • We will not support research which is solely working towards identifying or developing theories; potential for practical application is a major part of the assessment criteria.
  • Research should generate practical solutions to implementing health system improvements, including technical, economic, and cultural or governance/managerial components of implementation and sustainability.
  • Applicants should identify the potential impacts of their research on policy and practice at the application stage and actively consider how these can be maximised and developed.
  • Priority will be given to the research that benefits the most vulnerable populations and/or those in poorly resourced settings.
  • Projects using innovative methodologies that might enhance the overall research field, as well as delivering improvements to health systems implementation, management and supervision are strongly encouraged.
  • Methodologies will need to be clearly explained and well justified as methodological rigour will be an important aspect of peer review.
  • No particular diseases or health-related problems are prioritised for this call.
  • Projects should address ethical, economic, social, cultural, governance and political aspects of the problem as appropriate to the research question.

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

What's included

A total of £15 million is available. There will be one call each year with a total 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.


Studies funded through this scheme should be based in low- or middle-income countries.

Principal investigators must be employed by an eligible institution either in a low- or middle-income country or in the UK. 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.

Applications may be for:

Research grants

Focused projects usually up to 3 years’ duration with a maximum of 5 years’ duration. There are no set budget limits; small and larger-scale projects are invited. As a guide, applicants should note that approximately £4m is available for Research grants under this call, and the funders would like to fund 5-10 projects. Value for money is an important part of the assessment criteria.

Development grants

With a duration of 12-18 months and a maximum budget of £100k each. The purpose of a Development grant is to conduct preliminary studies needed before a Research grant proposal can be designed.

Recipients of Development grants will not automatically progress to full-scale research projects after their Development grant has ended. They will be expected to apply for a full-scale research project in open competition.

Funding is available for research only. We will not fund the routine delivery of health services. The funders expect that applicants will have identified at the application stage the health service partner which will provide any routine health service delivery relevant to the project.


This is an annual competition. The second call for this scheme is now closed. The deadline for applications was 4pm GMT on 5 February 2015.


Please contact Mandy Brown at the Medical Research Council ( mandy.brown@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk) with queries about applying to this funding scheme.

Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK T:+44 (0)20 7611 8888