The global burden of disease and illness is primarily situated in developing countries. As developing countries have limited resources, it is particularly important to invest in public health and health promotion strategies that are effective. Systematic reviews are central to evidence-based public health and health promotion practice and policy. This paper discusses issues surrounding the relevance of evidence-based public health and systematic reviews to the health of developing countries. It argues that there is a lack of systematic reviews relevant to the health priorities of developing countries; many interventions reviewed can not be implemented in resource-poor situations; and, a limited amount of primary research is conducted in developing countries. The paper further argues that improvements in public health are determined not only by effective health services and interventions, but through an approach that includes other sectors and influences broader structural and systematic barriers to health. Given the social complexity of human development, and the inter-sections amongst different development goals, there is no question that gains in developing country public health are unlikely to emerge from systematic reviews alone, but will require decisions about inter-sectoral collaboration and social policy initiatives. Nonetheless, evidence around intervention effectiveness has an important role to play in addressing health priorities in developing countries and resource-poor areas. The public health evidence base urgently needs strengthening, with dedicated effort towards increasing the relevance of primary evidence and systematic reviews.