WHO Launches Largest Global Collection of Health Inequality Data

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched the largest global collection of publicly available disaggregated data on health inequality, which aims to empower public health officials to conduct more targeted responses to health threats. 

Composed of over 11 million data points, the Health Inequality Data Repository (HIDR) is the first open-source tool to allow for the tracking of health inequalities between population groups over time. 

“Disaggregated data – which show how health or other aspects of life are experienced by people of different ages, economic status, education levels, place of residence, sex, and other characteristics – are a vital part of advancing equity,” WHO said. “To achieve equity, we first need to know where inequalities are.”

The lack of precise data on health indicators has long been a major challenge for global health officials. Despite constant calls by WHO for countries to improve their data collection and reporting systems, disaggregated data is still not available for many dimensions of health inequality. Only half of the qualifying Sustainable Development Goals, for example, are tracked with disaggregated data. 

When data exists, it is most frequently broken down only by sex, and occasionally by age and place of residence, limiting the ability of health authorities to calibrate their policy responses to target those most in need of assistance. 

The HIDR data set contains statistics on over 2000 health indicators relating to the Sustainable Development Goals, COVID-19, immunization, reproductive, maternal and child health, infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, and other health threats, broken down into 22 dimensions of inequality along demographic, socioeconomic and geographic lines. 

Armed with more precise information about which populations require the most help, global and national health officials can make more informed decisions, increasing the impact of often limited resources. 

“If we are truly committed to leaving no one behind, we must figure out who is being missed,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “The ability to direct services to those who need them the most is vital to advancing health equity and improving lives.”

Along with the launch of the database, WHO issued a call to governments to redouble their efforts to adopt routine health inequality monitoring and expand data collection capacities.

“Inequality analyses should be conducted regularly at the global, national and subnational levels,” the WHO said. “Inequality data can save lives by identifying who is left behind.”

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