Evaluation of research on interventions aligned to WHO ‘Best Buys’ for NCDs in low-income and lower-middle-income countries: a systematic review from 1990 to 2015
What is already known about this topic?
- The WHO published a number of highly cost-effective non-communicable disease (NCD) policy options—dubbed ‘best buys’—that are included in the Global Action Plan for the prevention and control of NCDs.
- Low-income and middle-income countries face the greatest burden of NCDs and have been encouraged to implement these polices as a priority.
- The ‘best buys’ are identified from the global evidence base, but it is unclear how many research activities are carried out in low-income and lower-middle-income countries (LLMICs) related to these priority NCD actions.
What are the new findings?
- There is a general lack of published evidence for the ‘best buy’ interventions in LLMICs, and a number of the interventions have not been evaluated at all in these settings.
- Most of the existing research is concentrated in South-East Asia. The researchers’ search only returned five studies from the African region, two from the Eastern Mediterranean, two from South-East Asia, one from the Americas, and none from the European or Western Pacific regions.
- More than half of the identified studies evaluated tobacco-related interventions.
Recommendations for policy
- This study highlights the need for prioritising NCD ’best buys’ in national research agendas in LLMICs. This would contribute to the generation of more ‘context specific’ evidence for NCD prevention and control, and improve the implementation of those policies.
- Countries that introduce ’best buys’ should try to evaluate these interventions and publish findings in the public domain.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death and disability worldwide, with low-income and middle-income countries experiencing a disproportionately high burden. Since 2010 WHO has promoted 24 highly cost-effective interventions for NCDs, dubbed ‘best buys’. It is unclear whether these interventions have been evaluated in low-income and lower-middle-income countries (LLMICs).
To systematically review research on interventions aligned to WHO ‘best buys’ for NCDs in LLMICs.
The researchers searched 13 major databases and included papers conducted in the 83 World Bank-defined LLMICs, published between 1 January 1990 and 5 February 2015. Two reviewers independently screened papers and assessed risk of bias. We adopted a narrative approach to data synthesis. The primary outcomes were NCD-related mortality and morbidity, and risk factor prevalence.
The researchers identified 2672 records, of which 36 were included (608 940 participants). No studies on ‘best buys’ were found in 89% of LLMICs. 19 of the 36 studies reported on the effectiveness of tobacco-related ‘best buys’, presenting good evidence for group interventions in reducing tobacco use but weaker evidence for interventions targeting individuals. There were fewer studies on smoking bans, warning labels and mass media campaigns, and no studies on taxes or marketing restrictions. There was supportive evidence that cervical screening and hepatitis B immunisation prevent cancer in LLMICs. A single randomised controlled trial supported polypharmacy for cardiovascular disease. Fourteen of the ‘best buy’ interventions did not have any good evidence for effectiveness in LLMICs.
There were no studies on any of the trans fat, salt or alcohol ‘best buys’.
Considering the individual ‘best buy’ interventions in more depth, there was no evidence for any of the alcohol ‘best buys’ in LLMICs. Alcohol abstention rates are high in low-income countries, and in some settings alcohol use is so low that the interventions may not be necessary. A number of LLMICs do have high rates of alcohol use, and the relative alcohol-related disease burden tends to be highest among low-income populations. Restricting availability to alcohol through licensing, age restrictions, higher pricing and advertising restrictions all reduced consumption levels in an analysis of 15 low-income and middle-income countries. Furthermore LLMICs are increasingly being targeted by alcohol companies, and aggressive marketing strategies have been reported in Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda.
Fourteen of the ‘best buy’ interventions did not have any good evidence for effectiveness in LLMICs.
The researchers found studies on only 11 of the 24 interventions aligned with the WHO ‘best buys’ from LLMIC settings. Most LLMICs have not conducted research on these interventions in their populations.
LLMICs are increasingly being targeted by alcohol companies, and aggressive marketing strategies have been reported in Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. Effective alcohol harm reduction polices are urgently needed in these settings, including policies that target informally retailed products.
LLMICs should take action to implement and evaluate ‘best buys’ in their national context, based on national priorities, and starting with interventions with the strongest evidence base.