Wednesday, January 9, 2013

One Stop for Health Data

If a researcher wants to find out which countries have the highest rates of tuberculosis, it may be difficult to pin down the latest information or decipher it from hundreds of columns of numbers presented in unfamiliar formats.

The World Health Organization’s online Global Health Observatory (GHO) is now helping specialists such as statisticians, epidemiologists, economists, and other public health researchers find global health data. This is necessary is because in 2012, more than 40 countries started reviewing their national health plans and will continue the process until 2014 requiring a great deal of in-depth and current data.

The GHO is the “one-stop shop” for the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of up-to-date health data. The online site provides free public access through a single internet page to a vast reservoir of data and analyses and trends for global health priorities by integrating around 1000 health indicators.

The information comes from many sources, including government birth and death registrations, health systems, surveys, censuses, research projects, and databases maintained by other organizations. A number of countries are involved in discussions to improve data collection and develop the best methods of estimation where there are gaps in the data.

The GHO is more than a database repository. Around 30 themes cover priority issues that impact health including the environment, nutrition as well as specific diseases such as cholera, HIV, and malaria. The site provides analysis, database views, information on major publications, and links to other relevant web pages. Also provided are special WHO reports and links to health and disease profiles for WHO member states.

Philippe Boucher, who leads the technology side of the GHO team, reports that the new version of GHO is due to be launched in 2013 and will help to make the data more user-friendly and easier to access, and convert to a variety of formats so that it can be used for different purposes. One new feature will include a range of interactive world maps that will display the latest health information for each country and be shared through Facebook and Twitter.

The GHO also shares and integrates data with regional health and partnership databases. For example, the World Health Organization’s Western Pacific Region is using the GHO as a model to build its own database, called the Health Information and Intelligence Platform.

For more information, go to