Midwives in Myanmar undergoing verbal autopsy training as part of Data for Health. Read more.
A bold vision to make deaths count
"Improving the availability and accuracy of global health data is one of the greatest opportunities we have to help people live longer, healthier lives. The more we know about causes of death and illness, the better we can target resources and measure progress," Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder and WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases.
One of the biggest contributors to preventable deaths isn't a health problem but a record-keeping problem - and it is one that can be solved.
Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative is a global initiative that has partnered with low and-middle-income countries to reach an anticipated 1.5 billion or more people. The Initiative aims to dramatically improve health data, including improving understanding of the leading causes of premature death, with the ultimate goal to save more lives by ensuring countries have more accurate public health information through strengthened civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems.
The University of Melbourne is one of six implementing partners of the Initiative, with a focus on improving national capacity, skills and knowledge to strengthen CRVS systems. Interventions include technical assistance to: increase the registration of births and deaths, improve the quality of cause of death information at hospitals, apply verbal autopsy to better understand probable causes of death in communities and, produce high-quality data sets and develop data analysis skills for policy and program analysis. In addition to the provision of technical assistance, the University of Melbourne conducts a CRVS Fellowship program to build capacity in emerging civil registration and vital statistics leaders, and has developed the CRVS Knowledge Gateway to ensure countries have lasting access to vital resources and up-to-date information to support CRVS system development. Through these interventions, participating countries and cities are equipped with the necessary knowledge and technical capacity to specifically target issues affecting public health.
"The biggest misconception is that it’s too hard and can’t be done. The Bloomberg project is about countering that myth. We’re making use of information and technology innovations and methodological advances, packaging them, talking to countries and building confidence in policymakers to show that these developments are possible - that their public health systems can benefit from these scientific and technological advances," Laureate Professor Alan Lopez, University of Melbourne, Technical Director of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative.
The work by the University of Melbourne on the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The University of Melbourne is working with partners including CDC Foundation, USA; Vital Strategies, USA; Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA; and the World Health Organization, Switzerland .
What is the problem?
Currently, less than half of all deaths (around 30 million each year) go unrecorded globally. For deaths with a recorded cause, many records do not provide medically accurate or specific information.
Record keeping is necessary to tackle public health problems, but 150 nations cannot reliably track what kills their citizens. In addition, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease and diabetes are becoming increasingly important drivers of poor health and premature deaths.
What is CRVS?
A functional civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system is the best source of continuous data on how many babies are born, how many people die, and what people are dying from.
Civil registration is the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events of the population in accordance with the law.
Information on these events, as well as cause of death, is important for public health, population planning, and development policies.
Why does CRVS matter?
Very few low-income countries currently have functioning CRVS systems, which is the foundation of public health systems.
This means that that the registration of births and deaths in their population, including the accurate recording of cause of death doesn’t exist or isn’t reliable. Without this information, government officials cannot make informed decisions on priorities including how and where to direct public health resources.
Neglect of these systems have been described by Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, as the "single most critical failure of development over the past 30 years".
“The more I got involved in the Global Burden of Disease study the more I realised we were dependent on creating ever more sophisticated mathematical modelling methods. But the solution to getting better information for governments was not so much in better modelling, but in better quality cause of death data, about better understanding who dies of what,” Professor Alan Lopez.
CRVS performance coincides with good health worldwide, irrespective of income and other factors likely to affect health status.
To help countries improve public health and save lives, the Data for Health Initiative is helping countries build and strengthen their CRVS systems. See more
With better data, public health leaders will be able to identify risk behaviours. With this information, related illnesses caused by day-to-day behaviours such as smoking and poor nutrition can be targeted, addressed and prevented with better understanding. Additionally, CRVS system data is needed to meet more than one-third (45) of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Civil registration also has a range of benefits for individuals in terms of legal status, and the protection of economic, social, and human rights.
How is the University of Melbourne helping?
Improving national capacity, skills and knowledge is a critical component of any strategy to strengthen a civil registration and vital statistics system.
Interventions include technical assistance to increase the registration of births and deaths, improve the quality of cause of death information at hospitals, apply verbal autopsy to better understand probable causes of death in communities, and to produce high-quality data sets and data analysis skills for policy and program analysis.
With this information and training in data analysis participating countries and cities in Latin America, Asia, and Africa will be able to turn insights from data into public policy, and direct resources to specifically targeted issues affecting public health.
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