Promoting evidence-based health care in Africa

Published by

Annette Gerritsen

Published on

11 September 2017

With the Global Evidence Summit 2017 starting this Wednesday in Cape Town, Charles Wiysonge is interviewed in this month’s WHO Bulletin (September 2017). In summary:

Countries with major public health challenges do not always base their health-care decisions on the best available scientific evidence. Charles Shey Wiysonge tells Fiona Fleck how he and his colleagues are trying to change that. Charles Shey Wiysonge is devoted to encouraging better use of scientific evidence for health policies and programmes in African countries. He is the director of the South African Cochrane Centre, a unit of the South African Medical Research Council, and a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the department of Global Health in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

The Cochrane Collaboration prepares and disseminates information on what works and what doesn’t in health care globally. How is the South African Cochrane Centre doing this in Africa?

Our centre was set up in 1997 as a unit of the South African Medical Research Council. It is the only Cochrane centre in Africa and has a branch in Nigeria. There is increasing recognition in sub-Saharan African countries, that policy-making should be based on the best available scientific evidence. To this end, we have been training researchers in these countries to do systematic reviews and recently expanded these activities via the recently established Cochrane African Network. The Cochrane Collaboration charges a fee to access its global library of systematic reviews and other evidence. Low-income countries can access this evidence via a special online platform, thanks to the Evidence Aid initiative. In South Africa, free access to the Cochrane Library is now provided by the South African Medical Research Council and we hope other middle-income countries in Africa will follow this model.

Are the Cochrane reviews useful in Africa too, or do countries in Africa need evidence that is tailored to their specific situation?

Not all Cochrane reviews are applicable to Africa. Since 2007, the South African Cochrane Centre has collaborated with the Centre for Informed Health Choices in Norway and others to improve the use of reliable research evidence in policy and management decisions in Africa. We found, overall, that most primary studies on health system issues are from high-income countries and that only some of these reviews are applicable in low-income settings, including parts of sub-Saharan Africa. For this reason, reviews that synthesize such studies have limited relevance to Africa, especially those written by researchers with no experience in Africa.

How will the conference you are hosting in Cape Town from 13 to 16 September contribute to improving the uptake of scientific evidence in policy-making in Africa?

The Cochrane Collaboration holds a colloquium every year. This year will be the first time that Cochrane will be joined by the four other biggest players in evidence-based policy: the Campbell Collaboration, the Johanna Briggs Institute, the Guidelines International Network and the International Society for Evidence based Health Care, to organise the first ever Global Evidence Summit. We are expecting thousands of participants, including those from every health-care discipline and from virtually every country on the continent of Africa. There is strong evidence that such interactive, educational meetings, can help health-care workers improve their performance. Participants will have the chance to learn more about guideline development, using evidence for emerging global health and social crises and how the evidence community can overcome denial of clear scientific findings. We are really excited about this opportunity to highlight the evidence-based approach to policy and practice in health for countries in Africa.

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