Building capacity for network meta-analysis in Sub-Saharan Africa: reflections and future direction

02 Jan 2024
Training by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images


Robust, relevant, comprehensive, and up-to-date evidence syntheses are the cornerstone for evidence-informed healthcare decisions. When considering multiple treatment options, network meta-analysis (NMA) systematic reviews play a key role in informing impactful decisions and clinical practice guidelines. However, the capacity and literacy to conduct NMA systematic reviews and interpret its results remains out of reach for many clinicians and review authors, especially in low-to-middle-income countries. Despite ample resources and guides, NMA capacity and training opportunities remain limited to non-existent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Towards solutions and strengthening evidence synthesis and NMA capacity in the Sub-Saharan African region, we describe and reflect on two courses that build NMA capacity and aim to address NMA literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Primer in NMA systematic reviews aimed for participants to be able to find, appraise, interpret, and consider the use of NMA SRs of intervention effects. It is a 6-week online course for clinicians, policy-makers, and researchers wanting to learn more about using NMA systematic reviews. The Global NMA Masterclass workshop aimed for participants to be able to understand and apply pairwise and NMA in STATA and R, evaluate NMA assumptions and confidence in NMA results, and appropriately report NMA results. This course was offered over 5 weeks to clinicians, biostatisticians, and researchers with basic knowledge of epidemiology and biostatics. Although the bulk of learning occurred through self-study, we had weekly, synchronous question-and-answer sessions for both courses. Using relevant examples throughout the courses helped to enable an authentic learning environment.

This was the first NMA training developed in Africa for Africa. Development of the courses was a collaborative effort from a multi-disciplinary team. Both NMA courses were well received and attended by a diverse group of participants spread across Sub-Saharan African countries. Participants felt the courses were applicable to their setting. Although most participants appreciated the benefits of online learning, we also experienced some challenges. There is great potential to conduct NMA systematic reviews in Sub-Saharan Africa. The NMA Primer and NMA workshop can play an essential role in expanding and developing NMA SR capacity and literacy in SSA.

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