EPRS Guest Blogger By / November 25, 2015

The Importance of Statistics in Public Health Sector Analysis

Written by Caterina Francesca Guidi and Gaby Umbach, both GlobalStat In cooperation with Nicole Scholz, EPRS Accurate, comprehensive, high-quality data and…

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Written by Caterina Francesca Guidi and Gaby Umbach, both GlobalStat
In cooperation with Nicole Scholz, EPRS

Accurate, comprehensive, high-quality data and statistics are not only central elements of evidence-based public health policy. By raising health awareness among the general public, they can also help achieve better social and health outcomes and reduce health inequalities.

The health policy landscape in the European Union (EU): diversity, variety, disparities

Due to persistent economic, social and geographical diversity, the huge variety across EU Member States’ health sectors continues to result in visible disparities in health conditions within the EU. This variety, therefore, plays an important role in citizens’ perception of their particular country’s performance in delivering health services and policies.

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The Member States’ public health sectors combine public and private initiatives as well as measures adopted to promote health, prevent diseases and prolong the life of national populations. They target the whole respective populations in terms of monitoring health statuses and improving citizens’ health conditions, especially through the formulation of public policies on health determinants and priorities. By doing so, they naturally represent and reflect national and local variation of approaches across the EU.

Following the logics of this persisting diversity, the recent economic crisis had a huge, though differentiated impact on EU Member States’ public health budgets. Reflecting national priorities and preferences, the Member States are reacting in different ways to guarantee appropriate access to healthcare services, promoting health and preventing diseases also in the aftermath of the crisis. In addition to these pressures exerted by the recent economic and financial crisis, different demographic dynamics, both in terms of life expectancy and progressive ageing of the EU’s population, have pointed at adaptation requirements of national health systems. The latest migration crisis has added to these requirements for adaptation of national health systems within the EU, which the Member States will continue to face differently according to their health care traditions and welfare models.

Health statistics analysis as a tool for policy formulation

While diversity is the name of the game across EU Member States’ health sectors, a more united approach should guide the analysis of national public health performances in order to provide measurable yardsticks for the improvement of health conditions across the EU. As outlined in point 9 of the EU’s Third Health Programme (2014-2020), innovation in health plays an essential role and should not be ‘limited to technological advances in terms of products and services’. What is also required to improve standards and outcomes of national health systems within the EU is enhanced innovation in ‘health system management and in the organisation and provision of health services and medical care […] to improve public health outcomes, enhance the quality of care to patients and respond to unmet needs’.

In terms of the political process, these demands required the improvement of evidence-based policy-making through increased data analysis and the integration of analytical statistical techniques into public health research. The preparation of evidence-based public health policies is therefore a strong desideratum to improve insight into the need for policy adaption across the EU. This even more so, as these new analytical instruments hold the potential to stimulate the development of relevant new tools that embrace insights from different disciplines such as epidemiology, health economics and social sciences into public policy-making. The analysis of health statistics, hence, should become even more vital for policy-makers in order to go beyond broad political arguments and to contextualise aspects of public health. Health statistics provide the objective evidence required for policy projection as well as for the sustainable formulation of public policies and help to conceptualise abstract concepts such as health inequalities, social determinants, policies implementation and epidemiological tendencies.

In a world of complexity and increasing change, deconstructing such phenomena remains central to provide the full picture of reality and to analyse properly the efforts required to promote public health. Finding ways to merge qualitative and quantitative assessments thus becomes ever more important also within the public health domain.

Providing essential health and social data

Within the universe of official data providers FAO, IEA, ILO, ITU, OECD, WHO, World Bank, UNDESA, UNDP, UNICEF, and UNHabitat are only some of the International Organisations that are essential in elaborating, providing and spreading data considered central in the public health sphere. Within GlobalStat, an entire area is dedicated to health. The theme Health & Living Conditions is divided into the four sub-themes Health, Poverty, Urban Development and Transportation & Infrastructure. Data are provided for 193 nation states and different geographical and geopolitical aggregates from 1960 onwards whenever possible.

The sub-theme Health provides data for birth, death, mortality rates and life expectancies, which offer an in-depth perspective on basic health inequalities between countries within the EU and across the world. Within the sub-theme Poverty GlobalStat reports indexes related to material deprivation, while under Urban Development you can find worldwide population changes in cities mainly due to the urban bias. Last, but not least our Transportation & Infrastructure section reports on measures linked to ICT diffusion, an aspect relevant for the provision of the health care and central in solving public health issues.

More awareness, better health

Raising health awareness across the population is a key means of fostering better social and health outcomes. It helps raise insight into the need of improving health statuses and well-being, reducing health inequalities and strengthening the public health sectors through direct actions of governments. GlobalStat seeks to add to this increase in awareness by granting access to key measures, evidence and statistics within the health sector.

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