Background: This paper is an attempt to review the advances and shortfalls in data collection and use of health data that have occurred during health emergencies in recent decades for the opening session of the Humanitarian and Health Conference at Dartmouth University in September of 2006.Methods: Examples of various kinds of successes and failures associated with health data collection are given to highlight advances with an effort to emphasize multi-agency efforts reviewed by outside scholars. Results: Health data, particularly surveillance data, have allowed relief workers to set priorities for life-saving humanitarian programs. The main guidelines widely utilized 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. Yet, 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 prioritizing of relief resources globally or on those political issues that trigger emergencies.Conclusions: The field of humanitarian relief is relatively nascent. Methods for documenting basic health measures on the local level have been developed and general health priorities have been documented. Some technical improvements in monitoring still are 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 global priorities, legal or political actions undertaken by international organizations, remains very limited.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Emergency Medicine