WHO report highlights need for better data to improve pandemic response

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released the first global assessment on the status and capacity of health information systems in 133 countries, covering 87% of the global population.

The aim of the SCORE report is to identify gaps and provide guidance for investment in areas that can have influence on the quality, availability, analysis, accessibility and use of health data.

The Survey, Count, Optimise, Review, Enable (SCORE) initiative is a technical package of interventions, recommended actions, tools and resources that aims to support countries in meeting health information system needs. 

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WHY IT MATTERS

The SCORE report reveals that two-thirds of low-income countries have established a standardised system to report causes of deaths. Despite this, it proceeds to highlight the need to strengthen these systems to help the response to health emergencies and track progress towards global health goals.  

Sixty percent of the countries reviewed have a ‘well-developed’ system for reviewing progress and performance of their health sector and half have the capacity to monitor quality of care. Furthermore, thirty-two percent of the countries have ‘good capacity’ for a national digital health strategy.

The report also acknowledges that although there is good availability of data on areas such as immunisation, tuberculosis and HIV incidence, there is less coverage on health issues such as mental health and cancer. This lack of data limits countries in their ability to plan and implement effective health programmes.   

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that even the more advanced health and data systems still struggle to provide data in near real-time. The lack of data worldwide limits the understanding of the mortality impact of the pandemic, potentially undermining response planning.

“The pandemic has stretched the capacity of country health information systems around the world, as they must track both the disease and other critical health trends,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. “The SCORE report is an important step towards better data, for better decisions and better health.”

THE LARGER CONTEXT

Yesterday, Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy on COVID-19 told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the UK has been “vindicated” over the decision to delay the second vaccine dose. Earlier in the year, the UK went against the advice of the WHO by choosing to offer the second jab between three and 12 weeks after the first dose.

This follows data from the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation so far showing high levels of protection after the first dose.

ON THE RECORD

Dr Charles Alessi, chief clinical officer at HIMSS said: “The WHO report on health data systems and capacity is incredibly timely as it clearly starts to delineate quite how far we have to go to get to a place where we can better hope to achieve our vision of realising the full potential of every human, everywhere. 

“The way forward for us all is clear. We have to start to better document health data, as unless we do that we are in essence “flying blind.” The opportunity for us to do this is enormous. COVID-19 has advanced the adoption of digital transformation globally and we are in a far better position than we have been in terms of availability of data as a result. It is now up to all of us to take heed of this report and develop action plans to improve on where we are.”

Michael Bloomberg, WHO global ambassador for noncommunicable diseases and injuries, said: “The SCORE report guides countries to invest in priority areas with the greatest impact on the collection, analysis and use of health data.  Among other recommendations the report urges countries to strengthen their overall health data systems, to improve their death data registration systems and to collect more and better quality data to address inequalities.” 

Dr Samira Asma, assistant director-general, for data, analytics and delivery said: “With SCORE at hand, WHO will support countries around the world to address data gaps and strengthen their data and health information systems.” 

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