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Data, in depth

When I arrived in Dar es Salaam, I was greeted with a warm smile and a "Karibu sana" -- “You are welcomed” in Swahili -- that set the tone for my visit to Tanzania.

I attended the Annual General & Scientific Meeting of the INDEPTH Network. INDEPTH is an international collaborative space that includes field surveillance sites collecting data on nearly every aspect of the lives of a surveyed population -- on infectious disease, cause of deaths, migration, health service utilization, livelihood, reproductive health, and more -- across 37 sites in 19 countries in Africa, Asia, Central America and Oceania. For one of the surveillance site in Matlab, a rural area about 70 kilometres southeast of Dhaka the capital of Bangladesh, data collection has been taking place for over 40 years now. Data has been used to evaluate disease patterns and trends and also to test health interventions. In total, 2.2 million people every year are being monitored -- this provides required health and demographic data that enable developing countries to set evidence-based health priorities and policies.

Not surprisingly, data sharing within and across field sites and countries presents significant challenges to data management due to uncertainty in data access, poor metadata, and disparate data quality standards. Some of these issues and challenges were discussed during a session on technological innovations. Of particular interest was the use of open source software for geospatial data management and analysis within and across sites in Burkina Faso, India, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, and Thailand. We also learned about projects in Uganda and Bangladesh piloting the use of mobile survey software for data collection – one of the sites was collecting 29,000 forms a year. Another point that piqued my interest was the concept of a “Health System Observatory” operating at different levels that would foster research discovery, innovation, and interactions between researchers, policy-makers, and other communities.

A concrete next step for me is to explore the possibility of leveraging INDEPTH capabilities to investigate the impact of ecology, climate, and socioeconomic change on the transmission of infectious diseases for more targeted control activities at local level.

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