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Published: 30 Nov, 2010

Politics about global health estimates overshadow real needs

NEWS Recent controversies about maternal mortality rates mask a bigger need to improve the process of global health estimation, and they deflect attention away from the need for action to improve the health of the most vulnerable.

These are some of the strong conclusions of a group of articles in this week's PLoS Medicine, authored by leading experts who provide insights and opinion on what estimates mean for global health and how to move forward with better data, measurement, coordination, and leadership.

Global health estimates such as rates of maternal and child mortality, progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, and other indicators of international health and development are often a source of controversy among academic researchers and international agencies, especially when different estimates come to different conclusions. Recent controversies about the "true" rates of maternal deaths around the world afford an opportunity to reflect and debate the way forward.

The cluster of articles in PLoS Medicine includes an introductory article by Peter Byass (Umeå University) laying out the main issues, as well as the perspectives of Ties Boerma and colleagues at WHO once the main agency generating global health estimates and academics Christopher Murray and Alan Lopez from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle USA, which are now involved in global health estimation.
The cluster also includes the perspectives of the often forgotten "users" of global health estimates at the country level including Osman Sankoh (INDEPTH Network, Ghana) who argues that estimation work should draw on collaborations with researchers and planners in low- and middle-income countries. Wendy Graham (University of Aberdeen, UK) and Sam Adjei (Centre for Health and Social Services, Ghana) call for more "responsible estimation."

Accompanying the cluster is an editorial by the PLoS Medicine Editors that argues that "contentiousness about health indicator estimates operates too much at the level of the global, and not enough at levels where real data are generated and interpreted."

Read the introductory article at PLoS Medicine

For more information, please contact:Professor Peter Byass, Department of Public Health and Clinical MedicineDirector of the Centre for Global Health Research, Umeå University
E-mail: peter.byass@epiph.umu.seMobile: +46 (0)76-787 30 07
High-resolution portrait photo (opens in new window)

Editor: Bertil Born