There is widespread evidence of failure to implement health interventions that have been demonstrated to be cost-effective by high-quality research; this failure affects both high-income and low-income countries. Low-income countries face additional challenges to using research evidence including: the weakness of their health systems, the lack of professional regulation and a lack of access to evidence. There is a need to strengthen institutions and mechanisms that can more systematically promote interactions between researchers, policy-makers and other stakeholders who can influence the uptake of research findings. The concept of public engagement with health research requires a public that is both informed and active. Even when systematic reviews are available further work is needed to translate their findings into guidelines or messages that are understandable to patients and health professionals. Many of the commonly used approaches for keeping health professionals' knowledge up-to-date appear to have small or inconsistent effects. The evidence-base is more extensive for interventions directed towards professionals, such as education, reminders or feedback, than for those directed at organizations or patients. The effect of interventions varies according to the setting and the behaviour that is targeted. Case studies in low-income settings suggest that some strategies can result in increased coverage of evidence-based interventions, but there is a lack of evidence from systematic reviews of rigorous research. Given the potential for near-term improvements in health, finding more effective ways of promoting the uptake of evidence-based interventions should be a priority for researchers, practitioners and policy-makers.