Date Published: November 30, 2010
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): J. Ties Boerma, Colin Mathers, Carla Abou-Zahr
Abstract: Ties Boerma and colleagues from WHO describe the agency’s work and future in health indicator monitoring, as part of a cluster of PLoS Medicine articles on global health estimates.
Partial Text: Global, regional, and country statistics on population and health indicators are important for assessing development and health progress and for guiding resource allocation, but data are often lacking, especially in low- and middle-income countries. To fill the gaps, statistical modeling is frequently used to produce comparable health statistics across countries that can be combined to produce regional and global statistics. Modeling brings together data from different sources and uses a range of statistical techniques to correct for biases, impute values where data are lacking, and predict current values for key health indicators. Estimation work, whether it be conducted under the aegis of an agency like the World Health Organization (WHO) or in an academic institution, should meet agreed standards of transparency, scientific rigour, and accessibility. Building upon WHO-issued internal guidelines for producing global, regional, and country estimates, four essential criteria can be identified ,. For each we offer the WHO perspective on current status and scope for improvement in work on estimates for health indicators.
The challenge for WHO, UNICEF, and other UN agencies is to decide whether to continue developing estimates for key health indicators, and to determine what kinds of relationships to pursue with academic institutions that have begun to develop their own estimates. The advent of new actors in the area of global estimation has stimulated WHO to reexamine its own activities in this area and to consider how they might be modified. Three options present themselves for the future work of WHO.
The growing demand for reliable data to monitor progress in health has highlighted the need to reinvigorate and strengthen the way estimates are generated and to address the underlying data gaps in countries, without running into protracted academic debates. The production and dissemination of health statistics for health action at the country, regional, and global levels are core WHO activities mandated by the Member States in the organization’s constitution. We see no reason why WHO should renounce this core activity in response to the parallel estimation activities of academic institutions. There are several reasons for this position: