Summary Planning for programme sustainability is a key contributor to health and development, especially in low-income and middle-income countries. A consensus evidence-based operational framework would facilitate policy and research advances in understanding, measuring, and improving programme sustainability. We did a systematic review of both conceptual frameworks and empirical studies about health-programme sustainability. On the basis of the review, we propose that sustainable health programmes are regarded as complex systems that encompass programmes, health problems targeted by programmes, and programmes' drivers or key stakeholders, all of which interact dynamically within any given context. We show the usefulness of this approach with case studies drawn from the authors' experience.