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Number of published systematic reviews and global burden of disease: database analysis

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 06 November 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:1083
  1. George H Swingler, associate professor1,
  2. Jimmy Volmink, professor2,
  3. John P A Ioannidis, chairman (
  1. 1School of Child and Adolescent Health, Red Cross Children's Hospital, University of Cape Town, 7700 Rondebosch, South Africa
  2. 2Primary Health Care, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town
  3. 3Clinical Trials and Evidence-Based Medicine Unit, Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, University of Ioannina School of Medicine, Ioannina 45110, Greece
  1. Correspondence to: J P A Ioannidis
  • Accepted 4 August 2003


Systematic reviews are key to implementing evidence based medicine.1 We wondered if the reviews done to date are related to the burden of disease from various conditions. Ideally, evidence should be prioritised for diseases with the greatest global impact.

Methods and results

We estimated Spearman correlations between the number of systematic reviews in two important databases (the Cochrane database of systematic reviews (CDSR) and the database of abstracts of reviews of effects (DARE)) and the burden of disease (globally and in established market economies) across disease categories. We also estimated the burden of disease for each available review measured in disability adjusted life years (DALYs).2 3 We used 1990 estimates of burden of disease because studies included in systematic reviews would have responded to recent past health needs. Results with estimates from 2000 were similar.

We categorised tar geted diseases in 923 reviews from the CDSR and 1899 reviews from the DARE in issue 4, 2000, of the Cochrane Library using 20 categories of the global burden of …

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