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Can We Count on Global Health Estimates?

This blog by Jocalyn Clark is cross-posted from the Healthy Newborn Network, an international resource that connects advocates around the world and provides a platform for discussions and interactions on a vast range of newborn and maternal health topics. According to their website, the HNN has a vast library of newborn health resources, featuring the latest in newborn health research, news, resources, events, articles, success stories and more from HNN Partners around the world.

The HNN reminds us that every year, 3.6 million newborns die, accounting for a staggering 41 percent of all deaths among children under age 5.

Can We Count on Global Health Estimates?

Estimates of global health indicators—which give insight into death and disease rates, document advances in development, and help policymakers monitor progress on important targets like MDG 4 and 5—are absolutely essential for improving global health. Global health estimates, however, are always imperfect and sometimes fiercely debated. Some controversy and disagreement erupted recently when two sets of competing maternal mortality rates were released. The controversy begs the question: Should health indicator estimates in areas like newborn and maternal health continue to be generated by UN agencies like WHO or should academics (like those at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation) now be leading the way?

To address this issue, PLoS Medicine—the leading open access medical journal—published a cluster of six articles commissioned from a series of experts that provide insights and opinion on what estimates mean for global health and how to move forward with better data, measurement, coordination, and leadership. Peter Byass provides the introductory article and argues why the “estimates debate” is so important. Ties Boerma and colleagues from WHO describe the agency’s work and future in health indicator monitoring. Christopher Murray and Alan Lopez argue for the predominant role of academia in the production and analysis of health indicators. Osman Sankoh argues for much stronger collaboration between generators of global health estimates, and individuals and organizations working at the country level. Finally, Wendy Graham and Sam Adjei argue that more leadership, better coordination, and a stakeholder-centric approach are needed in “responsible” global health estimation.

The PLoS Medicine Editors ask: can we still count on global health estimates?

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