Systematic reviews of public health interventions are fraught with challenges. Complexity is inherent; this may be due to multi-component interventions, diverse study populations, multiple outcomes measured, mixed study designs utilized and the effect of context on intervention design, implementation and effectiveness. For policy makers and practitioners to use systematic reviews to implement effective public health programmes, systematic reviews must include this information, which seeks to answer the questions posed by decision makers, including recipients of programmes. This necessitates expanding the traditional evaluation of evidence to incorporate the assessment of theory, integrity of interventions, context and sustainability of the interventions and outcomes. Unfortunately however, the critical information required for judging both the quality of a public health intervention and whether or not an intervention is worthwhile or replicable is missing from most public health intervention studies. When the raw material is not available in primary studies the systematic review process becomes even more challenging. Systematic reviews, which highlight these critical gaps, may act to encourage better reporting in primary studies. This paper provides recommendations to reviewers on the issues to address within a public health systematic review and, indirectly, provides advice to researchers on the reporting requirements of primary studies for the production of high quality systematic reviews.
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