A research article just published by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease reiterates the pressing need to strengthen health information in the Pacific, particularly in relation to data analysis, use and sharing.
The article focused on the findings and implications for the Pacific Islands of the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study.
The Pacific estimates in this important study show that lower respiratory infections, diabetes, and diarrhoea cause the greatest overall burden and mortality, and depression, low back pain, and anaemia cause the greatest disability in the region.
These results are likely to be a useful tool for assessing health priorities and informing policy and programming in the Pacific, but lead author, Dr Damian Hoy from SPC, states that ‘they need to be interpreted with some caution given that the estimates for the Pacific are derived from models built with very limited data’.
The authors explain in their paper that the greatest challenge in making the Pacific estimates is the paucity of data in the region ‘that have been analysed, synthesised and made publicly available’.
Pacific health ministers are aware of the need to strengthen data analysis and use in the region. In 2011, they recommended the ‘development of comprehensive training programmes to develop core competencies in ‘data techs’, ‘epi techs’ and epidemiologists’.
The article presents and discusses the work currently carried out by several networks and partners in the region to address this issue: the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN) Data for Decision Making training course, various operational research courses and initiatives, the Brisbane Accord Group initiative to strengthen vital statistics systems and the Pacific Health Information Network training activities.
Another PPHSN training programme led by SPC, not listed in the article because it is still under development, focuses on Strengthening Health Interventions in the Pacific (SHIP). This new initiative received the support of Directors of Health at the end of April and it will be presented to Pacific Ministers of Health in July.
Altogether, the article stresses that all these initiatives have great potential to contribute to rapidly strengthening data analysis and ensuring that good quality health data are available in the region.