When thinking about data, our mind usually jumps to our mobile phones and the endless possibilities they open. But we rarely spare a thought for the kind of data that accompanies our entire lives – even before we are born – and that can, quite literally, save our lives.
Health data allows doctors to make the right diagnoses, decide on adequate therapies and prescribe the right medicines. When compiled, analysed and interpreted according to international standards, our health data can also help to save others. Thanks to public health surveillance, medical professionals can take targeted, more informed actions to improve public health, document impacts of their actions and prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases.
Accurate public health data is particularly important when it comes to maternal health. The day of birth can be a very dangerous time for mothers and their babies. According to the World Health Organization, every year, 303,000 mothers die during childbirth, 2.6 million stillbirths occur and 2.7 million babies die during their first 28 days of life. We know how to prevent the majority of these maternal deaths and stillbirths and up to 75 per cent of newborn deaths. But we can only do that if we know where, when and to whom they are happening.
Currently, around six out of every 10 countries lack adequate systems for counting births and deaths. Many deaths go unreported and of those that are, most will be reviewed with a focus on the medical causes, often overlooking the potential solutions.
Knowing the true number of deaths and their causes could help countries take appropriate action to improve the quality of healthcare and prevent more child deaths from happening in the future. Producing birth and death certificates for everyone, establishing death review committees and creating policies to report and review all deaths could help us gather the data that is needed to save lives.
Every misclassified or unrecorded death is a lost opportunity to ensure other mothers and babies do not die in the same way. When it comes to health, better data can be a matter of life and death.
Better data makes our lives better in countless ways. As the UN Statistical Commission prepares to hold its 50th session this March, we highlight the stories that show how data can improve, and sometimes even save the lives of people . Discover the power of data!