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Vital Stories

The Power of Data To Reveal and Address Health Inequities

Vital Strategies
Peru’s Shipibo-Konibo indigenous community has adopted a verbal autopsy method to help identify deaths from COVID-19 in an area where there is a shortage of health professionals to certify causes of death. 

Vital Strategies’ Global Grants Program (GGP) provides funds and technical assistance to government partners to implement focused, results-oriented projects that improve public health data. The Global Grants Program supports countries in implementing projects that improve data collection, analysis and use for public health decision-making in four main areas: civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS), data use, cancer registries and noncommunicable disease surveys. Our model caters support to each country’s specific priorities in these areas, following the lead of our in-country partners who are not only health experts but are also intimately familiar with the needs of their local health systems and communities. The Global Grants Program is one of four programs under the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative, and is in currently in its sixth round of funding.  

The Global Grants Program supports countries in implementing projects that improve data collection, analysis and use for public health decision-making in four main areas: civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS), data use, cancer registries and noncommunicable disease surveys. 

Over the past year, Vital Strategies and the Data for Health Initiative have collaborated with our country partners to examine our role in promoting health equity. In our most recent call for funding, we asked partners what they think are the most pressing inequities in health outcomes and the data and systems most important to the planning, policymaking and programming needed to address these complex inequities. 

While the Global Grants Program had previously encouraged and funded projects that indirectly promoted equity, our most recent round of funding included “collecting and using data to promote equity”. This new thematic area garnered a lot of interest among applicants: almost one-half of all applicants chose to focus their projects on equity. Because the application left the definition of “equity” open to interpretation, the proposals we received revealed valuable insight into the priorities of applicants’ countries. Most of these proposals focused on expanding geographic reach as the means to collect and analyze new data or improve access to services. For example: 

Expanding civil registration services to rural areas 

The Gombe State Primary Health Care Development Agency in Nigeria proposed collecting and using birth data to examine and improve health care service delivery for children in Gombe State—an area with a high concentration of internally displaced people due to conflicts with extremist groups. Birth and death registration for children are incredibly important—they are key to unlocking social benefits including health care and other services, education, property inheritance and the right to vote, among others. In addition to Gombe State, proposals from The Gambia, Lesotho, and others sought to expand civil registration services to rural areas to make it easier to record births and deaths in communities that have historically faced the burden of traveling long distances to register vital events. 

While issues of inequity are often discussed in relation to characteristics such as gender, race and religion, the approach taken by these Global Grants applicants illuminates that geography is also a key determinant of access to resources needed for good health. Armed with this critical data, governments can take an evidence-based approach to developing programs and policies that not only improve population health but can also reverse or improve the existing structures or policies that excluded certain communities in the first place. 

Enabling offline medical certification 

Another example comes from the Ministry of Health in Peru, where Global Grants Program support will enable offline medical certification of deaths in rural areas that do not have internet connectivity. This will help to ensure that data from these rural communities, which comprise approximately 30% of the population of Peru and are primarily inhabited by indigenous peoples, are available to the government and represented in national statistics.  

The benefits of this work are manifold. First, it will increase awareness of the leading causes of death among Peru’s rural population, so that future illness and death can be prevented. It may also benefit standalone disease programs—such as those aiming to reduce mortality from tuberculosis, HIV or other specific causes—which can then use the data to measure the impact of interventions. Additionally, by bringing CRVS services to new areas, populations that were historically left outside of the health sector’s reach will now have their lived experiences represented in decision-making at all levels. This data can help governments intentionally improve equity: revisiting outdated policies that excluded certain populations and emphasizing the need for a systematic approach to tackling disparities in access to health.  

Equity as a cornerstone of future funding 

Other equity-related target areas from Global Grants applicants included outreach for data collection on women’s cancers and examining race and socioeconomic factors associated with COVID-19 vaccine access. Some applicants also chose to analyze the quality of CRVS data by age, sex and other characteristics to identify disparities and train physicians to be aware of and address bias in medical certification of deaths. From this group of applications, the Global Grants Program has provisionally approved 23 projects for funding, eleven of which target equity beyond what is inherent in Data for Health Initiative programming. 

The latest round of Global Grants applications shows us that the determinant of health inequities are different for each community, and that meeting and maintaining the needs of each population require a tailored approach.  

The Global Grants Program team is excited to welcome these new projects and country teams. This is a powerful opportunity for government partners to learn about what their communities need, meet these immediate priorities, and remove barriers to essential services. Addressing inequities in health care services and access to services, income and employment are important public health interventions. Our team remains committed to harnessing the power of data to reveal and correct health inequities for better public health policy and practices. We look forward to new and continued partnerships that center equity. 

This week, the Global Grants Program launched a new round of funding for projects focused on civil registration and vital statistics and data use for decision-making. Applicants are encouraged to focus on data use to promote health equity or in their response to COVID-19. The application period is open from Nov. 1 through Nov. 30, 2021. Selected project ideas will be invited to submit a full proposal by Jan. 15, 2022.  

Apply now: 

For questions regarding the Global Grants Program or the funding application, please contact  

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.