Many African countries lack reliable population data, particularly in rural areas. The picture shows a young mother from Tanzania carrying a child.
Photo: Scott Wallace/World Bank
Data that saves lives
Sensible health policies demand thorough knowledge of the health situation in the country. Yet many countries still lack official health data. The research network INDEPTH is up for the challenge.
In order to gather reliable health data where it is unavailable, the research network INDEPTH uses a range of methods, one of which is called verbal autopsy. By means of personal interviews, they gather information on infant mortality, disease prevalence and migration. Their network of research stations all over the world has produced a great quantity of useful data.
They also aim to facilitate for politicians to make well-informed decisions. The information is thus published freely at a website as a service to researchers and policy makers. According to Dr. Abraham Hodgson, director of Ghana’s Health Ministry, the service is very useful:
– On the website, you can follow the maternal or infant mortality in order to see if we reach the Millennium Development Goals, or if we need to shift strategy.
WHO uses this data when they are compiling global health statistics, and refer to INDEPTH when international health guidelines are to be set.
The organization has also produced research results that have formed the basis for the development of national guidelines in many countries. One study showed that mosquito nets treated with insecticide decreases the mortality rate of malaria, leading to national recommendations in Tanzania. Another study showed that the introduction of free antiretroviral treatment reduces mortality among HIV-positive adults.
Dr. Peter Waiswa was educated in cooperation between Karolinska Institutet and Makerere University in Uganda. He is responsible for INDEPTH’s health research on infants and mothers. According to him, lack of information is an important challenge.
– Diseases like HIV and malaria rightly get a lot of attention, but we also want to highlight health problems around birth, or other health challenges that tend to get neglected. By speaking directly to people, we can find out what really bothers them. The method allows us to bring forth high quality data that is often missing.
Swedish support to INDEPTH
The International Network for the Demographic Evaluation of Population and Their Health (INDEPTH) has 48 research stations in 21 low and middle income countries. It was officially formed in 2002 with support from Sida, the World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation and Wellcome Trust. Today, it is a pioneer in health data collection.
Swedish support to INDEPTH amounts to 40 million SEK for the period 2013-2016. This constitutes 45 percent of their budget.