Developing WHO guidelines with pragmatic, structured, evidence-based processes: A case study

Glob Public Health. 2010;5(4):395-412. doi: 10.1080/17441690903473253.


Many guidelines, including those produced by the World Health Organisation (WHO), have failed to adhere to rigorous methodological standards. Operational examples of guideline development processes may provide important lessons learned to improve the rigour and quality of future guidelines. To this end, this paper describes the process of developing WHO guidelines on prevention and care interventions for adults and adolescents living with HIV. Using a pragmatic, structured, evidence-based approach, we created an organising committee, identified topics, conducted systematic reviews, identified experts and distributed evidence summaries. Subsequently, 55 global HIV experts drafted and anonymously submitted guideline statements at the beginning of a conference. During the conference, participants voted on statements using scales evaluating appropriateness of the statements, strength of recommendation and level of evidence. After review of voting results, open discussion, re-voting and refinement of statements, a draft version of the guidelines was completed. A post-conference writing team refined the guidelines based on pre-determined guideline writing principles and incorporated external comments into a final document. Successes and challenges of the guideline development process were identified and are used to highlight current issues and debates in developing guidelines with a focus on implications for future guideline development at WHO.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / therapy*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Program Development / methods
  • World Health Organization*