Chapter 5

International Development Studies
Course Code
Anne- Emanuelle Birn

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IDSB04 - Introduction to International Health
October 5th, 2010
Chapter 5: Data and Health
Health related information, and knowing how to obtain it, is essential to taking action to
improve health.
Health data play a vital role in helping to identify needs and shape solutions. Many
Countries have limited data collection capacity at a national or sub national levels,
leaving policy makers to rely on extrapolations of older data or data from other countries.
Such data may be of limited relevance and may even jeopardize population health by
indicating erroneous needs and priorities.
Health professionals and other decision makers may overlook the crucial subject of
health related info due to time constraints and/or a lack of training on how to collect,
interpret, and disseminate health data.
Challenges of Health Data:
Data is tabulated at national and international levels and are believed to be unequivocal
baseline for public health decision making.
Understanding the patterns of health and mortality in a population, and being able to act
on this info, also requires knowledge of the social distribution of these patterns and the
constellation of factors that affect the health of the population and the individual.
Despite increasing recognition of the influence of social, political, and economic factors
on both illness and death, in most settings these variables are insufficiently captured by
routine health statistics collection. As well as many variables that directly influence
health such as rainfall, pollution, living conditions, and transportation do not typically
qualify as health statistics, although they may be vital in uncovering and addressing the
multiple underlying causes of ill health. For these reasons a strict reliance on narrowly
defined health data may not accurately portray valuable areas of policy development and
When the basic starting point in decision making and priority setting in public health is
derived from flawed or weak data, there are obvious challenges in interpreting the
findings and making decisions based on that data.
One of the first priorities in public health research must be to secure reliable health
statistics collections. However, data costs money and the higher quality it is the more it
costs. Therefore in general where disease occurrence is highest, the numbers are least
Assumptions Related to Health Data:
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