Effectiveness of humanitarian health interventions: a systematic review of literature published between 2013 and 2021
To provide a thorough mapping of the current quality and depth of evidence examining the effectiveness of health interventions in humanitarian settings in low and middle-income countries published in peer-reviewed journals since 2013.
We searched MEDLINE, Embase and Global Health for English language peer-reviewed literature published from May 2013 through April 2021 to analyse the strength of evidence on health interventions’ effectiveness in humanitarian settings in low and middle-income countries across nine thematic areas. Quality was assessed using standardised criteria and critical appraisal tools based on study design.
A total of 269 publications were included in this review. The volume of publications increased since the first Elrha Humanitarian Health Evidence Review in 2013, but non-communicable diseases and water, sanitation and hygiene remain the areas with the most limited evidence base on intervention effectiveness in addition to injury and rehabilitation. Economic evaluations continued to constitute a small proportion (5%) of studies. Half of studies had unclear risk of bias, while 28% had low, 11% moderate and 11% high risk of bias. Despite increased diversity in studied interventions, variations across and within topics do not necessarily reflect the health issues of greatest concern or barriers to quality service delivery in humanitarian settings.
Despite an increasing evidence base, the challenge of implementing high-quality and well-reported humanitarian health research persists as a critical concern. Improvements in reporting and intervention description are needed as are study designs that allow for attribution, standard indicators and longer term follow-up and outcome measures. There is a clear need to prioritise expansion of cross-cutting topics, namely health service delivery, health systems and cost-effectiveness.
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