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Fixing the world’s public health data problem is critical
By William A. Haseltine  |  Aug 29, 2022
Fixing the world’s public health data problem is critical
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Issues of inadequate or missing data collection, and fragmented, incompatible health systems hampered the response to COVID-19 and threaten to do so in future outbreaks. Fortunately, several possible solutions could at least partly remedy this problem.

FAIRFIELD, CONNECTICUT - With COVID-19 still an ever-present threat and monkeypox cases continuing to rise alongside existing chronic health epidemics, building strong, responsive public health systems has never been more important.

However, this will require developing effective data management, pursuing sustained investment and training, and building trust through clear communication and community engagement. To begin with, one should focus on the data problem.

Standardized, comprehensive health data lie at the heart of any public-health system, whether a task involves conducting infectious disease surveillance or understanding why some diseases affect certain populations more than others. Easily accessible, accurate health data are necessary to understand clinical information in real time, prevent medical errors, and make decisions about public-health measures before, during, and after times of crisis.

The world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly been hampered by the slow and inconsistent reporting of critical public-health data. In the absence of universal standards, many public-health systems and practitioners still rely on outmoded forms of communication such as paper and fax, which do not allow for rapid sharing. More than two years into the pandemic, it is still not possible to easily draw on the latest data to answer basic questions, such as COVID-19’s latest mortality rate according to patient variables.

In the United States, a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a National Public Health System finds that, “Only 3 percent of local health departments reported that information systems are all interoperable, a limitation that hampers both daily prevention work and coordinated responses.” Because the US has a fed

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