Academic Publication

The practice of evaluating epidemic response in humanitarian and low-income settings: a systematic review

Abdihamid Warsame
Jillian Murray
Amy Gimma
Francesco Checchi
BMC Medicine
Publication Year:
  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


Epidemics of infectious disease occur frequently in low-income and humanitarian settings and pose a serious threat to populations. However, relatively little is known about responses to these epidemics. Robust evaluations can generate evidence on response efforts and inform future improvements. This systematic review aimed to (i) identify epidemics reported in low-income and crisis settings, (ii) determine the frequency with which evaluations of responses to these epidemics were conducted, (iii) describe the main typologies of evaluations undertaken and (iv) identify key gaps and strengths of recent evaluation practice.


Reported epidemics were extracted from the following sources: World Health Organization Disease Outbreak News (WHO DON), UNICEF Cholera platform, Reliefweb, PROMED and Global Incidence Map. A systematic review for evaluation reports was conducted using the MEDLINE, EMBASE, Global Health, Web of Science, WPRIM, Reliefweb, PDQ Evidence and CINAHL Plus databases, complemented by grey literature searches using Google and Google Scholar. Evaluation records were quality-scored and linked to epidemics based on time and place. The time period for the review was 2010–2019.


A total of 429 epidemics were identified, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. A total of 15,424 potential evaluations records were screened, 699 assessed for eligibility and 132 included for narrative synthesis. Only one tenth of epidemics had a corresponding response evaluation. Overall, there was wide variability in the quality, content as well as in the disease coverage of evaluation reports.


The current state of evaluations of responses to these epidemics reveals large gaps in coverage and quality and bears important implications for health equity and accountability to affected populations. The limited availability of epidemic response evaluations prevents improvements to future public health response. The diversity of emphasis and methods of available evaluations limits comparison across responses and time. In order to improve future response and save lives, there is a pressing need to develop a standardized and practical approach as well as governance arrangements to ensure the systematic conduct of epidemic response evaluations in low-income and crisis settings.


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