Resilient and responsive health systems for a changing world

Resilience: absorbing shocks and sustaining gains

Health systems around the world inevitably confront multiple converging global, national and local challenges: from economic crises to environmental disaster; from infectious disease outbreaks and violence to hidden epidemics of mental illness and malnutrition; from rapid urbanization to post-conflict fragility. Today’s top stories – Ebola and failing health systems in West Africa, maternal health, chronic disease, environmental disasters causing thousands of deaths, health care and public health systems facing economic crisis – highlight the convergence of ‘old’ and ‘new’ challenges, and the crucial role of research in understanding and confronting these converging priorities. Health systems must be resilient – able to absorb the shocks and sustain the gains already made – or risk having decades of investment wiped out.

Responsiveness: anticipating change, respecting rights and engaging politics

Health systems must also be responsive. They must anticipate future needs, as well as harness emerging opportunities to promote universal health coverage and universal access to effective interventions. Our changing world also brings new opportunities – from information technology and social media to bio-technology – that must be harnessed for building resilience and responsiveness. Health systems must respond to demographic and epidemiological shifts across the world: shifts that are themselves related to social, ecological, economic and geopolitical changes.

Tackling the diverse sets of current and future challenges demands robust and inclusive decision-making processes.  Better governance, voice and accountability are essential for people-centred systems. Political action is needed to ensure adequate domestic financing reinforced with international support, where necessary, and efficient resource use.

Many health system drivers lie outside traditional ‘health’ boundaries. Working on them requires diverse groups to be brought together, including policy-makers, activists, community representatives, administrators, researchers and educators. Social mobilization and inter-sectoral action are essential for re-orienting health systems to be more people-centred. Research can evaluate and suggest new ways in which health systems and inter-sectoral collaborations can better respond to people’s emerging health needs, be directly accountable to communities, and ensure the rights and dignity of all people who use and provide health care services. Participatory action research in particular can directly enable people to voice their concerns and ideas for better health systems.

Health systems as incubators of innovation

Health systems are incubators of innovation. At HSR2016 in Vancouver, we will collectively engage and interrogate opportunities and modalities of transformation and resilience in health systems – in all their diverse realities – and as yet unforeseen challenges and opportunities that health systems may encounter. We seek to understand these diverse settings, and develop a more integrated understanding of the multiple ‘real worlds’ health systems are embedded within. HSR2016 will explore ways of preserving public value and public goods in the face of systemic changes that populations, governments and health systems as a whole have to confront, both today and in the future.

Whether you work on the role of the state or private sector, community participation, climate change, interdisciplinary modelling, intellectual property or maternal and child health, we invite you to share how your work can inform and learn from others, build the field, and transform health systems for the future, now.

Registration for the Fourth Global Symposium is available here.