Strong data systems are the backbone of governmental policymaking and can help countries make evidence-based decisions that protect the health and wellbeing of people and communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for accurate, timely and high quality data—yet gaps exist in data systems around the world. Understanding these gaps is key for developing solutions to ensure that governments can enact data-driven decision-making to inform public health priorities and use of resources.
Vital Strategies is proud to have contributed to the development of the new World Health Organization SCORE global report which assesses the health data systems in 133 countries. This resource highlights critical achievements in health data systems and provides governments with the tools needed to identify health priorities and inform policies.
To learn more about the SCORE report, what gaps the report fills and how it can help governments track progress towards the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs), we sat down with Philip Setel, Vice President of our Civil Registration and Vital Statistics program and Ruxana Jina, Director of the Data Impact Program.
What is the SCORE technical report, and what role did Vital Strategies play in its development?
Setel and Jina: Everyone should count. Yet almost half of deaths are still not registered and a quarter of the births of children under 5 have not been registered globally. The situation is much more acute in low- and middle-income countries. Without this information, governments lack a clear picture of population trends or causes of death and disease in their countries; this hampers decision-making about how to direct resources.
The SCORE global report intends to help change that by providing governments with a set of tools and resources to strengthen their health information systems – from data collection to use of that data. The report includes metrics that can set a baseline for each country to understand and assess the current state of their health information systems and offers the resources to make system improvements. The tools provided by this report also support governments tracking progress toward health-related SDGs. For example, the UN recognizes the importance of addressing under-registration, and has set targets of universal birth registration and 80% death registration by 2030.
Vital Strategies has worked with governments in over 30 countries providing technical assistance to improve public health data systems. Our team contributed to SCORE’s framework and assessment methodology based on best practices we’ve developed and lessons learned.
Why is this global report significant; what gaps does this report fill?
Setel: The SCORE global report supports country stakeholders in measuring, assessing and responding to their health information system improvement needs in the critical domains captured by the ‘SCORE’ acronym:
- Survey population and health risks
- Count births, deaths, and causes of deaths
- Optimize health services data
- Review progress and performance
- Enable data use for policy and action
In doing so, the report provides a one-stop-shop to assess health information system accomplishments, identify gaps and link users directly to a library of WHO, Vital Strategies and other vetted resources for system improvement.
Jina: The report provides a means for countries to assess the status of their health information system against a set of global standards and best practices. Countries can use these results to advocate for and implement improvement strategies such as campaigning for improved birth and death registration. This is especially important during the pandemic, improved death registration can provide higher quality data on total mortality during COVID-19.
Why is it important to strengthen a country’s health information system?
Setel: Most low- and middle-income countries exist in a health data paradox: they have the most urgent need for high-quality health information but, as the SCORE report indicates, may have insufficient system capacity to produce it. Without such data, such as the leading causes of death, countries struggle to define health priorities that target the most immediate needs of their populations, track the impact of policies and interventions and provide rapid morbidity, and mortality data in times of public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jina: Health information is one of the key building blocks of a health system, providing the necessary intelligence to inform the direction of public health interventions and policies. In our work with governments we’ve found that knowing what conditions cause the greatest number of deaths helps to identify where and to whom to target interventions. For example, detailed analysis on causes of death in Peru helped to develop prevention efforts regarding pneumonia vaccination and cervical cancer screening. Although all countries have some form of health information system, problems with coverage and inefficiencies in the system mean that high quality data are not received in a timely manner and can’t be used when it is most needed.
How can the SCORE report help governments track progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs)?
Jina: The SCORE report provides valuable insights on the function and performance of information systems that are required to collect and track data on health-related SDGs as well as the availability of these data in countries. Without the necessary data, countries are unable to monitor their progress in achieving the SDGs, neither can they address gaps for achieving them.
To learn more about Vital Strategies’ Data for Health Initiative, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org/programs/data-for-health/ and follow us on Twitter @VitalStrat.
The Data for Health Initiative is a global effort supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It provides technical assistance to low- and middle-income countries worldwide to improve public health data systems at the national level, including improving civil registration and vital statistics systems, maximizing the use of data to enhance public health policymaking and decision-making, establishing and strengthening national cancer registries and more. Vital Strategies serves as an implementing partner.
From identifying gaps, to proven methods to better count births and deaths, and how to use compiled data to improve health policy and programming.