Objective: To appraise the quality of guidelines developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) that were approved by its Guidelines Review Committee (GRC) and identify strengths and weaknesses in the guideline development process.
Study design: Cross-sectional.
Methods: Three individuals independently assessed GRC-approved WHO guidelines using the Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation II instrument (AGREE II). Scores were standardized across domains and overall quality was determined through consensus.
Results: 124 guidelines met inclusion criteria and were assessed. 58 guidelines were recommended for use, 58 were recommended with modifications and eight were not recommended. The highest scoring domains across guidelines were scope and purpose, and clarity of presentation. The recommended guidelines had higher rigor of development and applicability domain scores in comparison to other guidelines. 77% of the guidelines referenced an underlying evidence review and 49% used GRADE to assess the body of evidence or the strength of the recommendation. The domains in need of improvement included stakeholder engagement, editorial independence, and applicability. Guidelines not recommended for use were generally insufficient in their rigor of development.
Conclusions: WHO guidelines need further improvement, most importantly in the rigor of their development (i.e., use of evidence reviews). Other areas for improvement include increased stakeholder engagement, a more explicit process for recommendation formulation and disclosure of interests, discussion of the facilitators, barriers, resource implications, and criteria for monitoring the outcomes of guideline implementation. WHO guidelines can improve through increased transparency, adherence to the WHO Handbook for Guideline Development, and better oversight by the GRC.
Keywords: Clinical practice guidelines; Global health; Quality assessment.
Copyright © 2014 The Royal Society for Public Health. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.