A number of factors explain why WHO guideline developers make strong recommendations inconsistent with GRADE guidance.
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OBJECTIVE: Many strong recommendations issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) are based on low- or very low-quality (low certainty) evidence (discordant recommendations). Many such discordant recommendations are inconsistent with the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) guidance. We sought to understand why WHO makes discordant recommendations inconsistent with GRADE guidance.
STUDY DESIGN AND SETTING: We interviewed panel members involved in guidelines approved by WHO (2007-2012) that included discordant recommendations. Interviews, recorded and transcribed, focused on use of GRADE including the reasoning underlying, and factors contributing to, discordant recommendations.
RESULTS: Four themes emerged: strengths of GRADE, challenges and barriers to GRADE, strategies to improve GRADE application, and explanations for discordant recommendations. Reasons for discordant recommendations included skepticism about the value of making conditional recommendations; political considerations; high certainty in benefits (sometimes warranted, sometimes not) despite assessing evidence as low certainty; and concerns that conditional recommendations will be ignored.
CONCLUSION: WHO panelists make discordant recommendations inconsistent with GRADE guidance for reasons that include limitations in their understanding of GRADE. Ensuring optimal application of GRADE at WHO and elsewhere likely requires selecting panelists who have a commitment to GRADE principles, additional training of panelists, and formal processes to maximize adherence to GRADE principles.