The Fifth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, hosted by Health Systems Global, brings together players from across the globe to discuss key issues in the field of health systems and policy research and practice. Thousands of representatives from global health and development non-profit and private sector organizations, academia and professional society organizations convened in Liverpool in October for the Symposium. In addition to sharing knowledge and fostering discussions on strengthening health systems, the Symposium also serves as a forum to drive policy and action on pressing global health issues.

This year’s theme, Advancing Health Systems for All in the SDG Era, draws upon the Alma-Ata vision of health for all, with the Symposium occurring one week before world health leaders returned to Kazakhstan for a renewed global commitment to primary health care on Alma-Ata’s 40th anniversary.

The Health Systems Program was represented by faculty and students in 33 sessions spanning the conference sub-themes of multisectoral action, engaging the private sector, leaving no one behind, and community health. Students from the Program, in particular, were a great source of drivers for change and advocated for implementation of policies and research that drive equity and protect the most vulnerable. Brief excerpts of the Program’s student experience are included below:

Jaya Gupta, PhD, ‘18Jaya Gupta Poster

Jaya is a recent doctoral graduate from the Health Systems Program. Her dissertation consisted of a systematic literature review synthesizing evidence on approaches to motivate health workers in low- and middle-income countries. She presented her dissertation research in a poster presentation at the Symposium.

Thoughts on the conference: “The Global Symposium on Health Systems Research was a week of learning, conversation and debate. The symposium encouraged us, as researchers, to examine our practices and question whether sufficient consideration has been made of those traditionally marginalized. This rich dialogue was complemented with practical sessions on study design, frameworks, and methods to become more inclusive researchers.”

Ankita Meghani, PhD studentAnkita Meghani

Ankita is a PhD student and part of the team at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health working on the Data for Health Initiative (D4HI), a Bloomberg Philanthropies project aimed at improving public health data so that governments are equipped with the tools and systems to collect and use data to prioritize health challenges. Ankita presented a poster on behalf of D4HI, sharing research on how best to use mobile phone surveys to collect population data in Bangladesh and Tanzania. The surveys were used to measure non-communicable disease risk factors. 

Thoughts on the conference: “Attending HSR 2018 was a great experience – several sessions brought together the voices and perspectives of different actors, such as researchers, program implementers, and policymakers from across the world. These sessions provided a platform for rich discussions and incorporated the important views of those closest to the on-the-ground realities. As a doctoral student, HSR 2018 was a great way to make new connections with fellow students and researchers, and learn about interesting work happening across different dimensions of health systems in diverse settings.”  

Jess Wilhelm, PhD student

Jess is a PhD student in the Health Systems Program whose research focus is on the effects of transition from donor-funded HIV programs on health facilities in Uganda. The panel he was a part of focused on the financial transition of aid programs, specifically how to sustain health gains when funding is transferred from donor to domestic. Jess presented empirical findings on the impact of transition of PEPFAR support for both private for-profit and not-for-profit facilities in Uganda. The robust audience discussion that followed touched on issues related to health governance, transition, and the needs for, and limitations of, transition planning.

Thoughts on the conference: “The scale of HSR provides students an opportunity to learn at varying ‘altitudes’, ranging from the 30,000 ft. views in the plenary sessions to the ‘in the weeds’ perspective through methodological workshops. It is a ‘choose your own adventure’ experience, so students attending HSR should arrive already knowing what they want to gain from the conference.”

Nukhba Zia, PhD studentNukhba Zia

Nukhba is a doctoral student with the Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit (JH-IIRU). Her poster, Inclusive health Systems: Incorporating individuals with disability into plans for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, touched on the “leaving no one behind” sub-theme and focused on understanding access-related issues that individuals with disabilities face within their environment.

Thoughts on the conference: ‘’The Fifth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, or HSR2018, in Liverpool was my first time attending the symposium. It was a great opportunity to learn new methodologies and approaches in health systems research and meeting health systems and policy researchers from across the globe. I was intrigued by two main areas - knowledge translation and multi-sectoral collaborations - that the symposium placed great emphasis on. These are crucial elements of health systems research and are very relevant to injury and disability work that I am engaged in as part of JH-IIRU.”