Good policy needs good data

Understanding mortality and patterns in cause of death are fundamental for informed decisions on Public Health priorities and resources. Good policy needs good data on how many people die and what people are dying from.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, in the many countries without reliable civil registration systems, censuses and surveys were used as a means of measuring mortality. How complete is the data being used as policy foundation?

To fill a large knowledge gap about data in censuses and surveys, Nossal Institute's Dr Tim Adair, Dr Hang Li and Surender Pandey have conducted the first global assessment of completeness of household death reporting.  They found the exclusion of questions recommended by the United Nations produced poor quality mortality data in many countries. In particular, a question about the date of death is not included in around two-thirds of censuses, which leads to mortality data that are of little use as evidence for policy despite the enormous investments governments make in undertaking censuses. This is especially a concern in countries where more routine data sources such as civil registration are deficient and where there are no other reliable sources of mortality information. The research highlights the need for countries to place greater efforts to ensure mortality data in censuses and surveys are collected properly, by including all UN-recommended questions and by providing interviewers with adequate training in collecting data about such a sensitive topic.

Dr Adair recently shared these findings with attendees at the Population Association of America Annual Conference. Tim presented the paper he co-authored with Hang Li and Surender Pandey “A global assessment of the completeness and quality of household death reporting in censuses and surveys” to researchers working on population issues.  His presentation shed light on the gaps and challenges in household death reporting, leading to productive discussions among experts in the field.

As a result of this work, Tim has been invited to join the UNESCAP Adult Mortality Community of Practice that is seeking to improve the quality and utilisation of adult mortality data collected by non-routine sources to inform government policy. This Community of Practice is part of the WHO/UN Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19 Mortality Assessment and is an excellent platform for which the findings from the paper can be translated into improved collection of mortality data in countries.

Dr Tim Adair is a demographer and Principal Research Fellow in the Nossal Institute for Global Health. His primary interest is working with Governments of low-to-middle income countries to strengthen their civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems and improve the quality of health data available to policymakers

More Information

Dr Tim Adair