What are global health data?

What are global health data?

People use the term global health data in different ways – just like its parent term, global health. We propose the following argument for and definition of global health data.

Health-related data

Health-related data may originate from any sector, and may be collected and analysed:

  • By governmental and non-governmental organizations within health systems, public and private providers, researchers undertaking dedicated studies, or international agencies.
  • To manage health systems, evaluate interventions, manage preventive and clinical care, inform other sectors, develop global and local policy, or advance research.
  • As primary data through formal and informal data collection systems or as independent research, using openly available secondary data, or by harvesting big data.
  • Through observing, interviewing or examining populations, administrative information systems, or at the point of delivery.
  • Using the methods of several disciplines including demography, statistics, epidemiology, social sciences and economics.
  • Managed manually or by using information technology and specialised software.
  • Disseminated as management indicators, official national and international statistics, or in peer-reviewed journals.

Health-related data are collected where people live, and should inform policy and practice to address local health challenges.

Global health data

Health-related data become global health data when – aggregated, synthesised, and exchanged – they form the basis of estimates and evidence that drive international debate and collaborative efforts to improve health status and reduce disparities across populations, borders, and geographies. Numerous people and agencies create and use global health data, but national governments are obliged to maintain essential infrastructures to produce quality data to address their health priorities, and they share these data as indicators for international bench-marking against agreed targets.

Global health data must be trustworthy and represent populations fairly. Ideally, producers collect and manage these data consistently, economically, efficiently, ethically, and transparently, and disseminate them widely.

Global health data methods

Global health data methods describe how governments and other agencies use traditional and new technologies to: collect, clean, aggregate, synthesise, and disseminate health-related data; and transform them into indicators, estimates and evidence that inform efforts to improve health status and reduce disparities across populations, borders, and geographies.

Additional resources

Macfarlane S.B., AbouZahr C. (2019) Preface In: Macfarlane S., AbouZahr C. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Global Health Data Methods for Policy and Practice. Palgrave Macmillan, London.