Global Health Observatory – the one-stop shop for health data

December 2012

A researcher wanting to find out which countries have the highest rates of tuberculosis can find it hard to pin down the latest information or decipher it from hundreds of columns of numbers often presented in a format that can overwhelm even the most passionate data analyst.

Improvements are under way at WHO’s online Global Health Observatory (GHO) making health data easier to find and use for specialists such as statisticians, epidemiologists, economists and public health researchers as well as anyone with an interest in global health.

The GHO is the “one-stop shop” for the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of up-to-date health data. It provides free public access through a single internet page to a vast reservoir of data and analyses on the situation and trends for global health priorities, integrating around 1000 health indicators.

Health workers making a home visit.
WHO/P. Formenty

WHO’s health information comes from many sources including government birth and death registration, health systems, surveys and censuses, research projects and databases maintained by other organizations. Countries are closely involved in discussions to improve data collection and develop the best methods of estimation where there are gaps in the data.

More user-friendly data

Hazim Timimi, data manager in WHO’s Stop TB Department, has been working with the GHO team to improve public access to the large amount of TB data his department gathers.

“It makes sense to pull together all the information WHO collects, so that people can access it all in one place using a consistent interface and a standard format,” he says. “Data will be more widely available and usable than before.”

Philippe Boucher, who leads the technology side of the GHO team, says the new version, due to be launched in early 2013, will help make WHO’s data more user-friendly, easier to access and convert to a variety of formats so that it can be used for different purposes. New features include a range of interactive world maps that display the latest health information for each country with the roll of a computer mouse. It can even be shared through Facebook and Twitter.

Theme pages

But the GHO is more than a database repository. Around 30 themes cover priority issues that impact health including the environment, road safety, alcohol and nutrition as well as specific diseases such as cholera, HIV and malaria. These pages provide analyses using core indicators, database views, major publications and links to relevant web pages. The GHO also provides access to special WHO reports and links to health and disease profiles for WHO Member States.


The GHO shares and integrates data with regional health observatories and partnership databases. WHO’s Western Pacific Region used the GHO as a model to build its own database, the Health Information and Intelligence Platform. WPRO Project manager Arlene Quiambao, says the collaboration has saved many resources. “Instead of gathering data from different websites and databases, we just had to integrate GHO and our regional database,” she says. “And now, we have more time for understanding what data means for current and future policies and programmes, and making timely evidence-based decisions.”

Boucher says he would like to encourage more interaction with the GHO’s users. “If there is a function or format that users would like us to consider, we welcome their suggestions. When we know what our users want, it is much easier for us to ensure they can find it.”