Building capacity for systematic reviews in low-income countries: the Africa centre for systematic reviews and knowledge translation

Obuku EA1, Nabudere H1, Kinengyere A1, Sewankambo NK1
1Africa Centre for Systematic Reviews and Knowledge Translation (Africa Centre), Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Uganda

Background:

Research evidence has shown limited systematic reviewing capacity among researchers in sub-Saharan Africa. To address this gap and despite many challenges, a regional capacity building centre for systematic reviews has been set up at Makerere University, College of Health Sciences in Uganda.

Objective:

To describe our initial experience in building capacity for systematic reviews in Uganda, a low-income East African country.

Methods:

Between August 2013 and February 2014, we administered a sequential three-phase course consisting of self-driven introductory learning (10 days), face-to-face didactic lectures and hands-on group work (five days) in Kampala, Uganda; followed by technical support in conducting systematic reviews (expected to last 18 months). Outcome measures: Systematic reviewing activities including: question identification, protocol development, protocol registration, review execution, publication, training and grant application.

Results:

Twenty-six (62%) participants were admitted out of 42 total applicants; nine (34.6%) were female scientists. Trainees represented nine different universities or research institutes in Uganda (20), Kenya (2), Tanzania (1), Rwanda (1), Botswana (1) and Cameroon (1). Twenty (77%) and 24 (92.3%) completed the self-driven introductory learning and face-to-face sessions respectively. During this period, participants identified 14 potential review questions and were involved in five ongoing reviews at the start of the training. Two new protocols have been registered, two have been revived, one review was earmarked for updating, one was published and one new systematic review grant application was successful. Trainees identified absence of funding, limited support by supervisors, difficulty in team building, time constraints and specific skills gaps as key challenges in conducting reviews.

Conclusions:

These preliminary experiences suggest an unmet demand for building systematic reviewing capacity in Uganda and East Africa. Our next steps are to identify and implement effective strategies for supporting trainees to increase systematic reviewing activities in the coming years.