With an overwhelming amount of new evidence coming to light around COVID-19, Professor Mike Clarke explains how his work aims to ensure the most relevant information is available for those who need it.
The current landscape for COVID-19 evidence
COVID-19 and the global response to it are placing unprecedented demands on health systems and populations across the world. The global, national, local and personal responses need to be informed by reliable evidence from robust research. Hundreds of new clinical trials are already being planned or are underway, and these will be brought together in systematic reviews. These reviews, along with the many already completed reviews that are relevant to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and treating the health impacts, need to be accessible. There are hundreds of existing reviews that might provide evidence for areas of health and social care that are impacted by the response to COVID-19.
How to improve access
Professor Mike Clarke is working with Margaret Anderson, Dr Ruth Hunter and Dr Claire Cleland in the Centre for Public Health in Queen’s University Belfast and others to improve the accessibility of these reviews, as part of Evidence Aid. They are helping to lead an international effort to identify relevant systematic reviews, prepare short summaries with a focus on COVID-19 and its consequences, and make these freely available in a special online collection (www.evidenceaid.org/coronavirus-covid-19-evidence-collection).
Systematic reviews bring into focus the answers that are often lost amidst the noise of the vast research literature. They provide a summary of the available research on a specific topic. Systematic reviews make it more convenient for people to access the evidence from this research, and are rigorous in minimising bias and avoiding undue emphasis on individual studies. The value of systematic reviews is widely recognised and drawing on the totality of evidence when making choices makes perfect sense to the public, policy makers and practitioners. However, a major challenge is in bringing the reviews themselves together and making their findings understandable and easy to access. This is what Evidence Aid does for disasters and other major crises, and is now doing for COVID-19.
What is Evidence Aid
Evidence Aid is a registered charity in the UK. It aims to ensure that the best available evidence is used to design interventions, strategies and policies to assist those affected or at risk before, during and after disasters. It increases the availability and accessibility of evidence based on reliable and robust research by bringing systematic reviews together, summarising them and translating the evidence so that it is accessible for practitioners, the public and policy makers. Evidence Aid works with partners and contributors around the world to provide people and organisations with the knowledge tools they need to make well-informed decisions and choices about interventions, actions and strategies to improve health during and following disasters and other emergencies.
The impact of Evidence Aid in relation to COVID-19
Since the start of March, Evidence Aid has been searching the literature and working with partners around the world, including in the World Health Organisation and Cochrane, to identify relevant systematic reviews. More than 50 of these have already been summarised in a special online collection, clearly showing the relevance of the research, the content of the reviews, and they inform both the beneficial and harmful impacts of many different interventions. These range from care for the critically ill, including those needing ventilators to help with their breathing, to ways to treat milder symptoms such as cough and fever. They also cover ways to protect healthcare workers and the public from the virus. In the coming weeks, there will be an increasing focus on what might help people in low-resource settings, as COVID-19 reaches into the poorest countries of the world.
Professor Mike Clarke, Director of the Northern Ireland Methodology Hub and Northern Ireland Clinical Trials Unit, has over thirty years’ experience in the rigorous evaluation of the effects of health and social care, including numerous randomised trials, systematic reviews and other prospective studies. He is a strong advocate for increasing the capacity for reviews and trials as well as improving their accessibility. Commenting on this project, Professor Clarke said, “At this challenging time, as our clinical colleagues do all they can to help patients, those of us working as researchers to produce evidence for healthcare decision makers can deliver our own form of help: information. The provision of reliable information on the effects of interventions for COVID-19 and its impact will allow many of us to contribute to alleviating its effects. As researchers and systematic reviewers, we can help by doing what we do best.”