Health Research Policy and Systems
[Accessed 25 April 2015]
Capacity for conducting systematic reviews in low- and middle-income countries: a rapid appraisal
Sandy Oliver, Mukdarut Bangpan, Claire Stansfield, Ruth Stewart
Health Research Policy and Systems 2015, 13:23 (26 April 2015)
Systematic reviews of research are increasingly recognised as important for informing decisions across policy sectors and for setting priorities for research. Although reviews draw on international research, the host institutions and countries can focus attention on their own priorities. The uneven capacity for conducting research around the world raises questions about the capacity for conducting systematic reviews.
A rapid appraisal was conducted of current capacity and capacity strengthening activities for conducting systematic reviews in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). A systems approach to analysis considered the capacity of individuals nested within the larger units of research teams, institutions that fund, support, and/or conduct systematic reviews, and systems that support systematic reviewing internationally.
International systematic review networks, and their support organisations, are dominated by members from high-income countries. The largest network comprising a skilled workforce and established centres is the Cochrane Collaboration. Other networks, although smaller, provide support for systematic reviews addressing questions beyond effective clinical practice which require a broader range of methods. Capacity constraints were apparent at the levels of individuals, review teams, organisations, and system wide. Constraints at each level limited the capacity at levels nested within them. Skills training for individuals had limited utility if not allied to opportunities for review teams to practice the skills. Skills development was further constrained by language barriers, lack of support from academic organisations, and the limitations of wider systems for communication and knowledge management. All networks hosted some activities for strengthening the capacities of individuals and teams, although these were usually independent of core academic programmes and traditional career progression. Even rarer were efforts to increase demand for systematic reviews and to strengthen links between producers and potential users of systematic reviews.
Limited capacity for conducting systematic reviews within LMICs presents a major technical and social challenge to advancing their health systems. Effective capacity in LMICs can be spread through investing effort at multiple levels simultaneously, supported by countries (predominantly high-income countries) with established skills and experience.