Epidemiology is the cornerstone of global health. It shapes policy decisions and evidence-based practice by identifying risk factors for disease, and targets for preventive healthcare. As the foundation of quantitative monitoring and evaluation (M&E) activities and counterfactual impact evaluations (CIE), it also provides the evidence base for the scale-up of health interventions.
Most epidemiological research findings are genuine and make an important contribution to public health. But, as we recently argued in the BMJ Global Health, epidemiology, like any other profession, is liable to malpractice. Findings are sometimes obtained from ill-designed, badly implemented, inappropriately analysed or selectively reported studies. In other words ‘bad’ studies. These have no place in global health because they undermine the willingness of the general public and governments to act upon genuine findings.
In contrast, at KIT Royal Tropical Institute, we always strive to ensure that our studies are ‘good’ studies. We recently developed our own internal guidelines for Good Epidemiological Practice (GEP), which are specifically tailored to global health epidemiology. We followed the AGREE II framework for guideline development to guarantee: 1) scope and purpose; 2) stakeholder involvement; 3) rigour of development; 4) clarity of presentation; 5) applicability; and 6) editorial independence. These guidelines are aligned with the recently published recommendations from the Dutch Society for Epidemiology.
Advancing the GEP guidelines
We are currently conducting a study in order to adjust, improve and validate the GEP guidelines. The study leverages the Delphi method, which is a research method intended to reach consensus on a certain issue from a group of experts through multiple rounds of questionnaires and face-to-face meetings. Consequently, we are seeking and incorporating the input of more than 60 experts involved in the commissioning, conduct, appraisal and publication of global health research. We anticipate a revised and validated version of the guidelines in early 2019.
The GEP guidelines alone will not guard global health from questionable research practices; however, we believe that they are critical to ensure accountability and transparency.
We run courses and offer technical assistance that incorporate relevant elements of GEP. We also offer tailor-made trainings that deal with specific components of GEP in greater depth. Please contact Sandra Alba (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Christina Mergenthaler (email@example.com) with any queries as well as comments.