, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 3-14
Date: 01 Jan 2014

A scoping review of unintended harm associated with public health interventions: towards a typology and an understanding of underlying factors

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Unintended harm theory as related to public health interventions (PHI) is under developed, with harm evaluation and reporting often absent or incomplete. This review presents a typology for, and underlying factors linked to, PHI-associated unintended harm.


This scoping review was conducted electronically and includes articles from 1992 to June of 2013. Out of 2,490 originally identified titles, 26 full-text articles were included that discussed unintended harm associated with PHI. An iterative data analysis process was utilized to identify both a typology and underlying factors associated with unintended harm.


A typology of PHI-associated unintended harm was identified: (1) physical; (2) psychosocial; (3) economic; (4) cultural and (5) environmental. Five underlying factors associated with PHI unintended harm emerged: (1) limited and/or poor quality evidence; (2) prevention of one extreme leads to another (boomerang effects); (3) lack of community engagement; (4) ignoring root causes; and (5) higher-income country PHI implementation in a lower- or middle-income country.


PHI planning and evaluation frameworks may benefit from the consideration and potential incorporation of the unintended harm typology and underlying factors.