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Reuters Examines Use Of Statistics In Public Health Ahead Of WHO Report

“Above all else, analyzing the state of the world’s health — be it by looking at obesity rates, cancer cases, malaria deaths, or HIV-free births — requires decent statistics,” Reuters reports in an article examining the use of statistics in public health ahead of the release of the WHO’s World Health Statistics report. “The year’s report, due on May 16, will give data on everything from rates of measles deaths around the world, to the percentage of women who have no access to contraception, to the number of psychiatrists one country has compared to another,” the news agency writes. “But some recent high-profile disputes about some sets of data have focused a spotlight on the way the WHO collects its data and compiles its estimates,” the news agency states.  

“In an interview with Reuters …, Ties Boerma, WHO’s director of health statistics and information systems, started with a little known but alarming fact: ‘Two thirds of deaths in the world are not registered. And a third of births are also not registered,'” the news service writes. “‘If you do a global health estimate, you’ve got to have the data. And getting data is a big problem,’ Boerma said,” Reuters notes. “Boerma stresses the WHO uses the best data available and doesn’t bend under political pressure,” noting, “In the end, it publishes its own figures, and the methods by which it reached them, and stands by them even if they are different from data put out by national governments or research institutions.” Reuters adds, “Hans Rosling, a professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, believes embracing this uncertainty, rather than seeking to banish it, is vital when working with global health data” (Kelland, 5/14).

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