For more than three decades, the number and influence of economic evaluations of healthcare interventions have been increasing and gaining attention from a policy level. However, concerns about the credibility of these studies exist, particularly in studies from low- and middle- income countries (LMICs). This analysis was performed to explore economic evaluations conducted in LMICs in terms of methodological variations, quality of reporting and evidence used for the analyses. These results were compared with those studies conducted in high-income countries (HICs).
Rotavirus vaccine was selected as a case study, as it is one of the interventions that many studies in both settings have explored. The search to identify individual studies on rotavirus vaccines was performed in March 2014 using MEDLINE and the National Health Service Economic Evaluation Database. Only full economic evaluations, comparing cost and outcomes of at least two alternatives, were included for review. Selected criteria were applied to assess methodological variation, quality of reporting and quality of evidence used.
Eighty-five studies were included, consisting of 45 studies in HICs and 40 studies in LMICs. Seventy-five percent of the studies in LMICs were published by researchers from HICs. Compared with studies in HICs, the LMIC studies showed less methodological variety. In terms of the quality of reporting, LMICs had a high adherence to technical criteria, but HICs ultimately proved to be better. The same trend applied for the quality of evidence used.
Although the quality of economic evaluations in LMICs was not as high as those from HICs, it is of an acceptable level given several limitations that exist in these settings. However, the results of this study may not reflect the fact that LMICs have developed a better research capacity in the domain of health economics, given that most of the studies were in theory led by researchers from HICs. Putting more effort into fostering the development of both research infrastructure and capacity building as well as encouraging local engagement in LMICs is thus necessary.