Without essential data about what is causing death and disease, many countries rely on “best guess” methods to guide health resource allocation and policy decisions. We empower governments to count every life and use data strategically to target resources and policies that improve health and opportunity for their people.
Data for Health is a global initiative committed to the better understanding and use of data for public health policymaking. Funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the government of Australia, Vital Strategies $52.3M involvement includes providing technical assistance to improve civil registration/vital statistics systems and public health data use in twenty countries.
Civil registration and vital statistics systems, that is, the registration and enumeration of births and deaths and causes of death, give countries critical information to plan health programs. But simply having data is not enough. Governments also need – but often lack – the expertise to turn data into action and prevent needless deaths and suffering.
Over the next four years, the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative – funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the government of Australia – will focus on supporting twenty countries where improved health data systems will translate into saving lives and improved health. These countries, in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America, comprise 1.2 billion people. Moreover, the tools and methods developed there will provide a roadmap for other countries facing similar challenges.
40% of the world - 2.8 billion people - have been born and will likely die without any official record of their existence.
Drawing upon its strengths, Vital Strategies will focus on two pieces of the global project. The first is support in improving civil registration and vital statistics systems; and the second is in translating data into action – growing the knowledge to use and understand data for policymaking. Vital Strategies joins other Data for Health partners in this ambitious initiative, such as the CDC Foundation, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the University of Melbourne, and the World Health Organization.
In the Solomon Islands, most people live and die without any official record of their existence. Only 30% of the population have birth certificates, and less than 1% of the country’s deaths are registered. Doctors typically only issue a death certificate at the family’s request.
This is not just an injustice for the individual. It’s also a serious roadblock to improving public health. With no standardized birth or death certificates, and no mortality database, much of the data needed to find and address public health issues is based on limited data and regional modeling.
In January, 2016, we began working in the Solomon Islands to help bring their vital registration system up to date, and to help ensure that every citizen is counted and can be cared for.
A key component of this program is the introduction of a new medical certificate of cause of death, based on the international standards established by the World Health Organization. The new form is intended to standardize the way in which deaths are recorded. Where once a certificate may have indicated “old age” as the cause of death, now doctors have been trained to identify specific causes.
However, it is not as simple as creating a better document. Vital Strategies, in partnership with the University of Melbourne, trained all the doctors in the country, including the approximatelly 125 who practice at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara, and those working in 10 smaller hospital facilities throughout the islands, to use the new document.
By early 2017, all doctors had been trained in how to properly certify medical cause of death using the international standard form, paving the way to make sure all medical cause of death certificates are correctly filled.
To ensure that these new standards are maintained, a new national mortality committee comprised of a broad-based group of public health and medical experts, charged with reviewing any death certificates that may seem unclear, has been established.
As the new form has been introduced, the percentage of registered deaths has increased. That will lead to a better understanding of the health problems effecting the islands. It means a stronger baseline of data to tackle these problems. More people are being counted, recognized and can be cared for.