Advances in monitoring have not translated into improvements in humanitarian health services

Advances in monitoring have not translated into improvements in humanitarian health services

Health data collection in emergencies

The field of humanitarian relief is relatively promising. Methods for documenting basic health measures on the local level have been developed and general health priorities have been documented. This paper in Prehospital and Disaster Medicine reviews the advances and shortfalls in data collection and use of health data that have occurred during health emergencies in recent decades. The author provides examples of various kinds of successes and failures associated with health data collection which highlight advances and emphasise multi-agency efforts reviewed by outside scholars. The document shows how health data, particularly surveillance data, have allowed relief workers to set priorities for life-saving humanitarian programmes. The main guidelines widely utilised, such as those of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Médecins sans Frontières, and the Sphere Project, have considerable similarity due to the consistency of data collected in various crises. Moreover, difficult to see problems and successes have been revealed by coherent surveillance efforts.

However, the author highlights that these data collection efforts can not show significant improvements in the quality of humanitarian aid in recent years. Moreover, health data often do not appear to have meaningful influence on the prioritising of relief resources globally or on those political issues that trigger emergencies. The article concludes that technical improvements in monitoring are still needed but decision-making is most often limited by the lack of data rather than the problems with data. The ability of health data to influence spending on global priorities, legal or political actions undertaken by international organisations, remains very limited.

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