BACKGROUND: Policymakers in high-, low-, and middle-income countries alike face challenging choices about resource allocation in health. Economic evaluation can be useful in providing decision makers with the best evidence of the anticipated benefits of new investments, as well as their expected opportunity costs-the benefits forgone of the options not chosen. To guide the decisions of health systems effectively, it is important that the methods of economic evaluation are founded on clear principles, are applied systematically, and are appropriate to the decision problems they seek to inform.
METHODS: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major funder of economic evaluations of health technologies in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), commissioned a "reference case" through the International Decision Support Initiative (iDSI) to guide future evaluations, and improve both the consistency and usefulness to decision makers.
RESULTS: The iDSI Reference Case draws on previous insights from the World Health Organization, the US Panel on Cost-Effectiveness in Health Care, and the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Comprising 11 key principles, each accompanied by methodological specifications and reporting standards, the iDSI Reference Case also serves as a means of identifying priorities for methods research, and can be used as a framework for capacity building and technical assistance in LMICs.
CONCLUSIONS: The iDSI Reference Case is an aid to thought, not a substitute for it, and should not be followed slavishly without regard to context, culture, or history. This article presents the iDSI Reference Case and discusses the rationale, approach, components, and application in LMICs.