Data for Health to harness mobile phones for data collection

The University of Melbourne will lead the first phase of a $100 million initiative to use common mobile technologies to help 20 low- and middle-income countries to improve public health data collection.

The Data for Health initiative has been funded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's philanthropic arm in association with the federal government.

The university has received $10 million for the first phase of the initiative to provide the principal technical guidance to establish Data for Health.

Led by Alan Lopez, laureate professor at Melbourne's School of Population and Global Health, a team of experts will work on collecting and evaluating birth and death data in developing countries, with the goal of establishing a comprehensive ‘roadmap’ to better monitor global health outcomes.

The initiative aims to improve health data in developing countries by using new communications technologies to help them improve basic birth and death data and to monitor major risk factors.

According to Bloomberg Philanthropies, in addition to improving the recording of births and deaths, Data for Health will support new mechanisms for conducting public health surveys that will monitor major risk factors for early death, including non-communicable diseases.

Data for Health will take advantage of the widespread use of mobile phone devices in developing countries to enhance the efficiency of traditional household surveys, which are typically time-consuming and expensive, the organisation said.

With information from these surveys, illness caused by day-to-day behaviours such as tobacco use and poor nutrition habits can be targeted, addressed and prevented.

To assist governments with translating data into policy change, Bloomberg Philanthropies will also support training programs for local officials that are led by organisations specialising in data use. This training will enable officials to better interpret data and use it to inform program and policy decisions.

“Once priority health issues and challenges are identified based on the broad and comparative understanding that these data can offer, the most effective policies and programs can be developed,” Professor Lopez said in a statement.

“Impartial, reliable and timely evidence is a critical step towards informing policymakers and others involved with improving health systems to deliver better population health outcomes.”

The University of Melbourne will be partnered with other organisations on the project. These include the US-based CDC Foundation, which will support government staff in the selected countries to strengthen birth and death registration, as well as to create the mobile phone risk factor surveys.

Other partners include the World Health Organisation, Union North America and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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