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Vital Stories

Data For Health at 1 year: A solid foundation for progress

On March 23, 2015, philanthropist and businessman Michael R. Bloomberg and the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Hon. Julie Bishop, launched an ambitious effort to address critical issues in global public health: data gaps that inhibit the ability of most low- and middle-income countries to accurately understand the breadth and depth of public health problems and to design evidence-based public health solutions.

35 million deaths each year – 65% of all deaths worldwide – will go unrecorded. In data-poor environments, this means governments and other stakeholders don’t have information to target resources that could have improved their lives or even prevented their deaths. Moreover, even when health data do exist, governments face challenges in turning information into policies and programs to improve health and opportunity.

Vital Strategies is proud to be a partner in the Bloomberg Data For Health Initiative, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Government of Australia, which has brought us together with other technical and operational partners –  CDC, WHO, University of Melbourne, and The Johns Hopkins University – for an ambitious 4-year initiative to pave the way for a world where every life is counted.

The Initiative is working in Asia, Latin America, the Western Pacific, and Africa where the problem is the most acute, and that have a demonstrated desire to improve their systems. In these countries, Vital Strategies is contributing 2 programs to the Initiative: CRVS Improvement, which works to improve civil registration and vital statistics systems  that provide a foundation for understanding mortality at a population level; and Data Impact, which aims to enhance governments’ capacity to analyze and communicate health data and translate health data into public health policy.

The overall goal of the Initiative is that, by 2019, at least one billion people are living in countries with significantly improved CRVS systems and enhanced capacity for using data to design, advocate for, and measure progress in evidence-based public health policies.

Year one: Turning a grand vision into a blueprint

In the past year, the Vital Strategies team has been crisscrossing the globe, meeting with countries to develop partnerships with them in the D4H Initiative and collaboratively develop work plans to achieve their goals. By looking at the real-world needs and capabilities of a range of countries and drawing upon a team of global experts in CRVS and Data Impact, we are devising approaches that will make significant progress achievable in every country and, ultimately, can serve as road maps for other countries as well.

For instance, in January 2016, the CRVS team traveled to Solomon Islands to listen and respond to the country’s needs. There, we will be helping the government implement a best-practice system of issuing death certificates based on international standards set by the World Health Organization.

Similarly, with regards to growing Data Impact- the ability of countries to turn data into actionable public health interventions- the sheer scope of potential work is a challenge.

However, working to identify specific opportunities within the priorities of the governments of our partner countries, the team has already laid the ground work for progress. In Brazil, for example, Vital Strategies is working with the Brazilian Ministry of Health to improve the country’s data architecture through the development and implementation of a national database and streamlined CRVS system. The joint hope is that this new system will not only standardize data collection but map it to greater efficacy in decisions in policy making. In the case of Brazil with a capable and sizeable infrastructure, the focus is much more on scaling and optimizing.

Our Vice President for CRVS, Philip Setel, conveyed that the Bloomberg Data for Health Initiative seeks to “facilitate the improvement of systems that can reliably deliver data about deaths and causes of death for people who would otherwise be invisible”.

What’s Next in Year Two of Data for Health?

With solid partnerships with governments and other global agencies in place, and a good sense of the needs and priorities of our focus countries, Vital Strategies is poised for a robust year of action.

Dr. Adam Karpati, Senior Vice President for Public Health Programs, feels that “In a relatively short period of time, working with our partners, we’ve established collaborative relationships in more than a dozen countries. Year two of Data for Health will bring meaningful progress via those partnerships. In many cases, we’ve begun to do so already. In Asia, Latin America, Western Pacific and Africa, we, our international partners, and our government collaborators are already rolling up our sleeves and getting started. Already, we see gains towards a future where more people are counted, where systems generate more robust data, and where governments better turn that data into policies that can positively impact population health.”