Strengthening the global evidence base on public health and social measures through a WHO research initiative
Background: Public health and social measures (PHSM) refer to nonpharmaceutical interventions implemented by individuals, communities and governments at all levels. During the COVID-19 pandemic, PHSM have been applied globally at an unprecedented scale and time span. PHSM have protected both lives and livelihoods, but they have also had negative health, social and economic consequences for individuals and societies, particularly for those living in vulnerable conditions. Producing robust evidence on the effectiveness and negative impacts of PHSM and understanding factors influencing adherence to measures is crucial to equitable and context-specific decisions and strengthening emergency preparedness and response. However, the complexity of PHSM and ethical, legal and feasibility limitations related to PHSM research in an emergency context, especially randomized controlled trials, have hampered systematic evaluation of PHSM.
Objectives: The World Health Organization (WHO) launched a global initiative in 2021 to build robust data and research evidence to better understand the effectiveness of PHSM and improve precision in future PHSM decisions and policies.
Methods: The initiative is taking a comprehensive approach to strengthen the evidence base on PHSM spanning from conceptual work to promoting primary research production and evidence use in policy.
Results: The initiative’s research pillar promotes the production of trustworthy and actionable evidence on PHSM through (i) a conceptual framework on PHSM fostering a common and comprehensive understanding of PHSM and their impacts, (ii) a series of global evidence syntheses on the effectiveness and impact of PHSM, factors influencing the adherence to measures as well as social protection policies for protecting livelihoods, (iii) a global research agenda for setting priorities for research production for the next decade, (iv) a suite of study protocols to collect high-quality, comparable and timely data on the effectiveness of PHSM in various settings during an emergency, and (v) a research database serving as a one-stop repository of primary studies and living systematic reviews on PHSM.
Conclusions: The WHO PHSM initiative aims to produce and catalyse evidence that is comparable, high quality, equity focused and policy relevant to support decision-makers to make evidence-informed decisions about PHSM to better protect communities during future emergencies.