Issues, challenges, action
A country’s health information system collects data from the health sector and other relevant sectors, analyzes the data and ensures their overall quality, relevance and timeliness, and converts data into information for health related decision-making.
A health information system provides the underpinnings for decision-making. Better access to timely, complete and accurate evidence on health systems leads to better policy work and more effective health interventions.
However, data in the region are often unreliable at best or completely lacking, and in the absence of appropriate and timely evidence, governments instead turn to ad hoc measures and base their policy decisions on events in the past and sometimes under often-conflicting pressures from development partners.
Weakness in country health information systems design has been mainly due to haphazard and fragmented efforts to develop these systems. Health information systems, especially in developing countries, are often restricted in their ability to provide reliable information to guide timely public health actions.
Health research systems are still in their infancy in lower- and middle-income countries. With little domestic investment and heavy external dependence, few of these countries are able to track and manage these investments and ensure ethical and technical quality and effective utilization of research.
There is a strong call for closer monitoring of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals as well as for evidence on effective approaches to accelerate attainment of these targets.
The shift towards decentralized health systems has created demand for structural changes in health information systems, and renewed attention to primary health care calls for better health systems performance assessments to monitor equitable delivery of quality health services.
The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the recent onset of the global financial crisis have created demand for greater accountability and better use of evidence-based approaches for health interventions and results-oriented reporting and assessment.
The Health Information, Evidence and Research Unit works closely with governments and development partners across the region to help them strengthen their health information systems.
The Unit developed the WHO WPRO Health Information System Framework for Action. This framework sets specific objectives for 2010-2015, i.e., to support countries to improve the quality of health information, adopt data quality assurance procedures and use appropriate health information technology, At regional level, the framework sets objectives to improve access and utilization of health information in health policy decision-making by improving data processing, information sharing and developing a platform for information development, presentation and analysis.
WHO’s Health Information and Intelligence Platform takes country- and regional-level data and packages them in a form that policy-makers, researchers and the public can compare, visualize and manipulate. As a cross-cutting regional initiative spanning all health programmes, the HIIP is a public health joint collaborative platform that bridges the gap between WHO Global Health Observatory and country-level health information systems.
Setting up the platform entailed galvanizing stakeholders from 37 Member States to look at health information systems from a non-technical perspective, broaden their view beyond hardware and software and to see the true value of health information — as a key national resource. It also requires continuously working with all disease programmes to ensure the quality of data.
WHO’s Information, Evidence and Research Unit assists countries to build capacity for research and to use best evidence to inform health policies and programmes, such as through the establishment of national health research registries to improve health research governance and management and setting up of evidence-based research ethics systems.