Introduction to Health Systems


This is a 10 unit short course developed by David Bishai of

Johns Hopkins University and the Health Systems Board under

the sponsorship of Future Health Systems ( 

Goal of the course:

To familiarize students with the syndromic study of health systems

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About this course 

Health systems (plural) are the overlapping institutions that determine how a population organizes preventive and curative activities to guard health and cure disease. Health systems are to the maintenance of population health similar to what organ systems are to the health of the human body. There are multiple systems and breakdown of one affects the breakdown of others. Health systems deploy health workers, drugs, facilities, financing, and governance. Like organ systems, health systems break down in predictable patterns and lead to syndromes that can be diagnosed and addressed.

Dysfunctional health systems are why thousands of effective low-cost health interventions remain on the shelves while people suffer and die. Dysfunctional health systems leave people vulnerable to financial catastrophe. Failure to manage health resources judiciously permits not just waste, but the delivery of inappropriate or harmful services. While many lament how little research addresses the development of “new cures” for the diseases of the poor, the inexcusable tragedy is the world’s failure to deliver affordable and effective “old cures” to treatable and preventable diseases. Diarrhoea, pneumonia, TB, malaria, are all easily and cheaply treatable. Their persistence around the world is a testament to failed health systems more so than a lack of scientific prowess.

What will you learn

Upon completing this course students will be able to:

  1. Apply the theory of economic systems to the study of health systems
  2. Distinguish the principal institutions, agents, and units that constitute a nation’s health systems
  3. Identify the principal syndromes of dysfunction in health system
  4. Critically evaluate promising attempts to manage dysfunctional health systems and how the social and political context can affect reform
  5. List ways to engage the policy reform process and how to adapt this process locally
Last modified: Wednesday, 24 June 2015, 4:56 AM