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BMJ. 2013 Feb 12;346:f707. doi: 10.1136/bmj.f707.

Comparative effect sizes in randomised trials from less developed and more developed countries: meta-epidemiological assessment.

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Clinical Trials and Evidence-Based Medicine Unit, Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, University of Ioannina School of Medicine, University Campus, Ioannina, Greece.



To compare treatment effects from randomised trials conducted in more developed versus less developed countries.


Meta-epidemiological study.


Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (August 2012).


Meta-analyses with mortality outcomes including data from at least one randomised trial conducted in a less developed country and one in a more developed country. Relative risk estimates of more versus less developed countries were compared by calculating the relative relative risks for each topic and the summary relative relative risks across all topics. Similar analyses were performed for the primary binary outcome of each topic.


139 meta-analyses with mortality outcomes were eligible. No nominally significant differences between more developed and less developed countries were found for 128 (92%) meta-analyses. However, differences were beyond chance in 11 (8%) cases, always showing more favourable treatment effects in trials from less developed countries. The summary relative relative risk was 1.12 (95% confidence interval 1.06 to 1.18; P<0.001; I(2)=0%), suggesting significantly more favourable mortality effects in trials from less developed countries. Results were similar for meta-analyses with nominally significant treatment effects for mortality (1.15), meta-analyses with recent trials (1.14), and when excluding trials from less developed countries that subsequently became more developed (1.12). For the primary binary outcomes (127 meta-analyses), 20 topics had differences in treatment effects beyond chance (more favourable in less developed countries in 15/20 cases).


Trials from less developed countries in a few cases show significantly more favourable treatment effects than trials in more developed countries and, on average, treatment effects are more favourable in less developed countries. These discrepancies may reflect biases in reporting or study design as well as genuine differences in baseline risk or treatment implementation and should be considers when generalising evidence across different settings.

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