Health surveys have been conducted in more than 80 countries.
Longstanding USAID project collects and analyzes health data in the developing world
How do developing countries and global health nonprofits determine which programs are successful and worth replicating? Often by using data generated by the MEASURE DHS Project—an effort funded by the US Agency for International Development to improve population, health, and nutrition programs around the world.
For more than 20 years, the MEASURE DHS Project (the “DHS” stands for demographic and health surveys) has been helping developing countries collect, analyze, and disseminate data to help policymakers, program managers, and researchers understand more about the health status of various populations and determine which health interventions are working—and which aren’t.
About the project
The MEASURE DHS team works with in-country staff—usually from the ministry of health or a national statistical center—to conduct several types of studies:
- Periodic household surveys in 80 countries yield critical information on the overall health and nutrition of regions and countries.
- Indicator surveys in African and Asian countries help quantify the true magnitude of AIDS and malaria and shed light on communities’ understanding of these diseases. Do individuals know how HIV is transmitted and how they can protect themselves? Do they know that sleeping under insecticide-treated bednets can protect them from malaria-transmitting mosquitoes? Are they sleeping under bednets? Answers to these questions will influence the design of public health interventions aimed at stopping HIV transmission and malaria.
- Service provision assessments, or SPA surveys, collect data from health facilities and help decision-makers prioritize investments and improve the access to and the quality of services. These assessments take into account staffing levels, staff training, the services provided, condition of facilities and supplies, and client satisfaction. For example, the Kenyan Government used SPA survey results to help create its Second National Health Sector Strategic Plan (2005 to 2010).
- Qualitative research provides context and interpretation for survey data. For example, interviews with individuals or groups can illuminate the reasons behind a decrease in use of contraception.
PATH has been a member of the project team since 2003. We provide three full-time staff members and expertise on a range of research and health topics:
- Our staff conducted the first malaria surveys in DHS and lead the ongoing application of the SPA surveys.
- On the topic of nutrition, we are ensuring high-quality reporting of indicators such as malnutrition, anemia, and breastfeeding in the developing world. We are also collaborating with WHO in releasing a new publication with indicators on the introduction of solid foods (complementary feeding) in children.
- We are contributing to the dissemination of important information on youth, such as their knowledge of HIV and use of crucial services such as family planning.
- In addition, we offer the project team special expertise in biomarker research. Biomarkers are physical tests or measurements, such as hemoglobin level, that can provide information on the prevalence of health conditions. For example, we train personnel in various countries on how to collect blood samples in the field or conduct difficult HIV tests in the lab, ensuring that these tests are done under rigorous quality-control procedures. Thanks to accurate biomarker data, we can identify populations that are at risk of vitamin A deficiency or anemia—and design health interventions to correct the deficiencies. Biomarker data can also deepen our understanding of the health context when linked to demographic data such as education level or the number of children a woman has.
Making it available
Once analyzed, DHS data are disseminated to in-country users such as national policymakers, health planners, and nongovernmental agencies that are working in the health sector. Data are also available through internet tools such as the STATcompiler and the HIV/AIDS database. Using these tools, anyone with internet access can obtain data on many health indicators and build tables for a specific country, showing trends over time or comparisons with other countries. With other online tools, STATmapper and the HIVmapper, users can view maps of health and HIV/AIDS indicators in contrasting colors across regions and countries. They also can link HIV-related data to the worldwide HIV Spatial Data Repository.
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Photo: Siri Wood.