Gaps in public health reporting can put lives at risk, warns WHO report.

Fewer than 45 per cent of births and just one in 10 deaths are registered in African countries, compared to the Europe and Americas, where 90 per cent of both are recorded.

That’s according to new data from the World Health Organization (WHO), in a first-of-its kind assessment of global health information systems.

Statistics from 133 countries (equating to 87 per cent of the global population) have been collated in the SCORE assessment, which was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Good health data and surveillance is an essential part of how public health decisions are made. Gaps leave policymakers ill equipped to detect and act on public health threats and, most recently, has hampered efforts to track and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The SCORE report found that while good data on immunization, tuberculosis and HIV incidence was available in nearly all the countries surveyed, there was far less coverage in areas such as mental health and cancer. This weakens the ability of governments to spot gaps in healthcare provision, and to plan for current and future needs.

Covid-19 has only reinforced the need for strong health systems and timely data, noted WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in his forward to the report.

“We can only build back better with robust data and health information systems in every country and every community,” he wrote.

Beyond the pandemic, health data is essential for countries to help their populations fulfil their potential. Children who are not registered at birth, for example, can be denied access to education and healthcare, further marginalising them and their families.

“Good data is essential to good decision-making,” Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, noted in the report. “With more timely and accurate data in hand – ranging from basic birth and death records, to detailed evidence on risk behaviours like tobacco use – policymakers can make smart, targeted investments in improving public health and saving lives.” – PA