Recommendations to prevent morbidity and mortality in children was a high priority for the editorial group of a WHO pocket book for primary health care in the European region. However, the benefit of preventive interventions is not always clear and recommendations differ across countries and institutions. Here, we summarize the existing recommendations and the most recent evidence on ten selected preventive interventions applied to children under five years to inform this group. In addition, we reflect on the process and challenges of developing these summaries.
For each intervention, we systematically searched for current recommendations from the WHO, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, the workgroup PrevInfad from the Spanish Association of Primary Care Pediatrics, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Then, we systematically searched the sources above and the Cochrane library for relevant systematic reviews. For each topic, we reported the recommendations and the strength of the recommendation when and as reported by the authors. We summarized the main findings of systematic reviews with the certainty of the evidence as reported. Categorising the ten preventive interventions in three groups allowed narrative comparisons between similar types of interventions and between groups.
For the single interventions of providing vitamins D and K and topical fluoride there is overall a high degree of consensus between institutions for the evidence of their effectiveness. For the multiple interventions to prevent sudden infant death syndrome and unintentional injuries consensus was more variable as evidence of effectiveness is harder to ascertain. For the screening interventions the summaries of recommendations and evidence varied too. While institutions generally agreed in recommending for vision screening and against universal screening for language and speech delay and iron deficiency, they had some differences for pulse oximetry and autism. The transparent and independent process shed light upon how institutions use existing evidence in their settings – common and different positions were accounted for and became visible. We also identified gaps and duplications of research. Our approach was a crucial starting point for developing the respective sections in the pocket book.

© 2021. The Author(s).