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    Everything You've Ever Needed To Know About Health Systems

    New to the wonderful world of health systems? Then this post is for you! Whether you're a wonk that needs to brush up, a student, a health care practitioner or just an interested and engaged citizen – this primer is full of everything you've ever needed to know about health systems and how they function around the world.

    This post is designed to always be a work in progress. Think there's a topic we haven't covered that explains something key about health systems? Let us know and add your own section by getting in touch!

    The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health systems as comprised of six ‘building blocks’

    But the ‘building blocks’ approach has its critics

    Right, so now we know what health systems are — but why are they important?

    View this video on YouTube

    Didn’t watch the video? Let me recap — the video explains what all is involved in vaccinating children. First, we need the science to determine whether a vaccine is effective at solving a particular problem. We’ve got lots of this type of science in health, we know what sorts of technologies seem to work.

    But having an effective technology isn’t enough if it can’t get to the people who need it, or if they can’t afford it, or if it’s broken along the way — that’s where health systems (and health systems strengthening) come in.

    As the video explains, there is vaccine production in a variety of countries. These vaccines need to be purchased and then distributed to the countries where they are needed. Once they arrive in country, there need to be further distribution mechanisms — often while kept in cold storage. Let’s say that they arrive at a local clinic, in addition to keeping cold they then have to be administered by a trained health care provider of some sort with the proper materials, including alcohol wipes, needles, syringes, and plasters or bandaids.

    Overall something as ‘simple’ as administering a vaccine is actually rather complicated, and effective health systems are necessary to ensure each step.

    [Contributed by Jeff Knezovich, Future Health Systems, with inputs from Kate Tulenko, CapacityPlus.]

    Who pays for health care services?

    Who provides health care services?

    So which country has the best health system?

    What about countries whose health system has been devastated by war or conflict?

    You keep banging on about social determinants of health? What are they, and how do they relate to health systems?

    And what about the people involved in the health system?

    Can health systems be 'governed', 'managed' or even just improved?