WHO appeals for greater investment in information systems to track progress and accountability in women's and children's health
High-level Commission report recommends that all countries take steps to establish systems to register births, deaths and causes of death
19 May 2001
At a high-level World Health Assembly technical briefing today, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization declared that investment in health information systems was largely lacking and appealed for more support in this area which would serve countries well in the longer term. "Without investment in health information systems, you invest in a black box," she stated, meaning that if such systems are weak it is difficult to support and fund the right interventions and measure progress. For example, numbers of children being born or women dying were unknown, referring to them as "faceless, voiceless" people.
She said that WHO would work closely with the Health Metrics Network (HMN) in order to empower countries to put in the right, cross-sectoral vital events registration mechanisms. An estimated 40 million births and 40 million deaths go unrecorded each year, and no reliable data exist on causes of death for two thirds of the world's population.
At this briefing, the report of the United Nations Secretary-General's Commission on Information and Accountability for Women's and Children's Health "Keeping Promises, Measuring Results" was launched. The first of ten recommendations in the report calls for all countries to have, by 2015, taken significant steps to establish a system for registration of births, deaths and causes of death, and to have well-functioning health information systems that combine data from facilities, administrative sources and surveys.
At the event, Nigeria described an upsurge of birth registrations during its maternal and child weeks, while Cameroon conveyed its desire to work harder on birth and death registration. Both countries ― and others no doubt ― are seeking support to carry out such activities. The Honorable Modou Diagne Fada, Minister of Health, Senegal, told of significant weaknesses particularly regarding cause of death data.
Ambassador Marius Grinius, representing Commission co-Chair the Right Honorable Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper, and Dr Tore Godal, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of Norway, announced their governments' financial commitments to women's and children's health. Dr Klaus Leisinger, President and Managing Director, Novartis Foundation praised the Commission's focussed and clear report, saying "it could be a game changer" and said he considered it an ethical duty to provide support to future developments stemming from this blueprint.