Prevention and treatment of acute malnutrition in humanitarian emergencies: a multi-organisation collaboration to increase access to synthesised evidence

31 May 2019


Program decision-making to prevent and treat acute malnutrition in an emergency can be hampered by a lack of accessible and relevant overviews of directly available robust research evidence. There is often evidence from related settings such as from low-income countries, but this is dispersed across many databases, may be inaccessible and requires assessment of its relevance to the humanitarian setting. We describe a process whereby a multi-disciplinary, international group of specialists worked together to build relevant and effective collections of available systematic reviews on acute malnutrition, published and disseminated as online collections, to improve access to the evidence and concise, synthesised, relevant up to date evidence for programming. By describing this process, we hope to inspire other professional groups to take part in similar multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary projects.


This project was designed to make the evidence from relevant systematic reviews about malnutrition as accessible as possible to support evidence-based decision-making and to guide future research on the prevention and treatment of acute malnutrition in humanitarian emergencies.


Between March 2017 and March 2018, a large group (21 volunteers and stakeholders) with different backgrounds collaborated to review and curate collections of systematic reviews of interventions for the prevention and treatment of moderate and severe acute malnutrition relevant to humanitarian emergencies. The methodology loosely followed general guidance for overviews of systematic reviews with a pre-defined question (formulated using the PICOS format) and search strategies applied to multiple databases. Pairs of collaborators first screened the search yields to identify potentially eligible reviews, where after other pairs screened the list of potentially eligible reviews for relevance and thus included in the final collections.


Search strategies were run in 12 databases, in the week of 15 September 2017, yielding a total of 4646 records after de-duplication. At this point, Cochrane reviews (n = 463) and non-Cochrane reviews (n = 4183) were separated and handled by different teams to compile three linked collections, namely the Evidence Aid Collection, consisting of relevant non-Cochrane reviews, and two Cochrane Special Collections, consisting of relevant Cochrane reviews, one for prevention and the other for treatment of acute malnutrition. The collections were published on the Evidence Aid website on 12 March 2018 and Cochrane website in August 2018.


Through this collaboration, we have successfully generated three collections of systematic reviews to guide prevention and management of acute malnutrition in humanitarian emergencies: an Evidence Aid collection of non-Cochrane reviews, and two Cochrane Special Collections of Cochrane reviews. These collections provide accessible synthesised evidence that can be used to inform decision-making on strategies and policies in the humanitarian emergency and disaster risk reduction sectors and to guide future research by identifying gaps in robust evidence and areas that are under-researched. These collections did not set out to assess methodological quality, appraise in detail what the reviews found or summarise the evidence, but rather to curate the identified relevant systematic reviews into online resources for others to use. This unique collaboration of different individuals, organisations and stakeholders, and the collation of robust evidence can be repeated for other subjects, and Evidence Aid is eager to support new collections around other topics relevant to humanitarian emergencies.

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