To describe systematic review production in 41 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the eastern Mediterranean to understand one dimension of the climate for evidence-informed health systems and to provide a baseline for an evaluation of knowledge translation initiatives.
Our focus was systematic reviews published between 1996 and 2008 that had a corresponding author based in, or that appeared to target, one of the countries in these regions. We searched both Medline and Embase using validated search strategies, identified citations with a country name in the corresponding author's institutional affiliation or as a textword (i.e., an explicit mention in the title or abstract) or keyword, and coded articles describing a systematic review. We followed the same citation identification procedure for Health Systems Evidence, a database containing systematic reviews about health systems.
Systematic review production increased between three-fold (for Africa in Medline) and 110-fold (for Asia in Embase) between the first period (1996-2002) and second period (2003-2008). In the second period, China was more often the home of corresponding authors and the target of reviews than any other country. No systematic reviews were produced by a corresponding author based in nine countries, or appeared to target five countries. Only 48 reviews identified through Medline and Embase addressed health systems, and 35 health systems reviews identified through Health Systems Evidence addressed these countries.
In many countries, those seeking to support evidence-informed health systems cannot turn to experienced local systematic reviewers to help them to find and use systematic reviews or to conduct reviews on high priority topics when none exists. These findings suggest the need for local capacity-building initiatives.