Want UHC? Improve data quality — WHO

Patients and health care professionals at the Bangladesh Institute of Research and Rehabilitation for Diabetes, Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders. Improving the quality of data is a step toward providing 1 billion people with access to decent health care. Photo by: AbirAbdullah / ADB / CC BY-NC-ND

Global efforts to promote universal health coverage in the new sustainable development goals are getting into high gear as we approach 2015, and stakeholders are discussing different avenues to move forward on providing about 1 billion people worldwide with access to decent health care.

One of these is improving the quality of data, according to Vivian Lin, health systems director at the World Health Organization’s Western Pacific office in Manila.

According to Lin, better data can inform policymakers and health professionals shaping the global health debate to make better decisions and policies, reduce costs and time, improve the quality and quantity of health services, and integrate various systems to achieve UHC more effectively and efficiently.

Despite this and the rise of technology in development programs, she admitted that universal health data remains “relatively poor,” so a question looms — how do you ensure that the data being collected is of the highest quality?

Lin explained that tying data and money can improve not only the quality of data for health but also the amount of global interest in giving everyone access to proper care.  

“In my experience time and time again, when people actually start to see that when data and money get tied, there will be a rapid improvement in the whole process and quality of data,” Lin said Tuesday during a panel discussion about UHC hosted by the Asian Development Bank in Manila. “Of course you will need competence in it and help the people to improve — but I think having incentives is very important.”

Abul Kalam Azad, director general for planning and development at Bangladesh’s health ministry, added that information and communications technology structures can help improve the quality of data collection, as long as they are low-cost, simple, innovative, locally appropriate, visible and scalable.

“These six elements have to be taken into consideration if you want technology to improve health coverage in your country. A harmonized health database [as a result] saves time and money,” Azad said, citing as an example his country’s experience in gradually adapting a widely available technology in providing better social services.

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Healthy Means is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Concern Worldwide, Gavi, GlaxoSmithKline, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Population Fund to showcase new ideas and ways we can work together to expand health care and live better lives.

About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.