How good is our information on health and well-being?

“Effective health policies rely on current, reliable data and evidence. We have taken significant steps in the area of health monitoring and reporting. Nevertheless, there is a need for increased commitment, effective partnerships and international collaboration so that this intelligence is translated into all national health policies in Europe.”

André van der Zande, Director-General of RIVM

Providing public health policy-makers and researchers with accurate, harmonized data, information and expertise on health and well-being in the WHO European Region is the aim of a new innovative collaboration between the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and WHO/Europe. 

An initial objective of the collaboration is to develop and define indicators to support target-setting for Health 2020, the European policy for health and well-being, including indicators for well-being. A key goal is for data to be available from a common European information system.

“This initiative aims to build a partnership in the non-traditional sense. All relevant partners – WHO/Europe, RIVM, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the European Commission and, in the future, also other European countries and national institutes – should share their expertise. This initiative is unique in the sense that through networking we will all contribute to a virtual platform, administrative costs will be minimal, and the collaborative structure is easy to establish, very adaptable and responsive to countries’ needs.”

André van der Zande, Director-General of RIVM

The first focus of the platform is to map the data and information available in databases, projects and web sites managed by collaborators and countries, and to identify gaps, overlaps and redundant information. This work is under way, and will help determine the data that will form the core of the common health information system.

Collaboration between WHO and the Netherlands

“We know that Dutch public health policy has learned valuable lessons by looking beyond our own borders. We also feel that WHO should play a central role in Europe in the gathering and exchange of comparable data, relevant information and best practices for public health. This information business is central to WHO's activities and historically in good hands. Still, there is a need for further support in this area.

Focusing on expanding the intelligence that we need to support policy-making is something we feel should be taken up jointly by various partners, possibly with some committed Member States in the lead and building on existing expertise. We hope that by actually starting this initiative, we can convince other partners to join.”

Paul Huijts, Director-General for Public Health, Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Netherlands

This health information initiative is part of a partnership programme between WHO and the Netherlands, which in turn is part of a joint policy framework between two Dutch ministries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.

The funding for this partnership programme supplements routine contributions by the Netherlands to WHO, and focuses on priority health issues including prevention, health systems and health research. A central objective of the programme is to promote the exchange of expertise between the Netherlands and WHO, as well as to support WHO in its major policy priorities.

RIVM is one of the major Dutch institutional partners that deliver public health expertise to WHO within this partnership programme. Another part of the programme is a collaboration on antimicrobial resistance.

Health information portal

One of the first tangible products to emerge from the collaboration on health information will be a portal at WHO/Europe – an online resource containing knowledge about health information, monitoring and reporting, and bringing together relevant databases, projects and expert networks in the European Region. It will also include a one-stop shop that provides data from all WHO/Europe’s databases with new innovative display tools and quick and easy access.

In addition, the portal is expected to support discussion groups, where Member State experts can meet virtually and discuss their health information needs. Providing easy access to relevant projects and documents published by international and nongovernmental organizations is another major aim of the portal.

“We are also actively seeking the participation of as many Member States as possible, to share their unique perspectives and expertise, and contribute in a variety of ways to ensure the network is sustainable and remains relevant in the long term.”

Claudia Stein, Director of the Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation, WHO/Europe

This portal, available in English and Russian, is due to be launched at the end of 2013.

Common indicators for health information

A vital area of work for the initiative is to reach agreement on common indicators for Health 2020, as well as on how this information is to be collected and analysed, at the supranational, national and regional levels. Two expert groups have already been established to propose indicators for the targets agreed for Health 2020.

These groups are reviewing how concepts that have not traditionally been evaluated, such as governance, resilient communities or well-being, have been measured, if at all. The experts are developing common innovative indicators so that progress towards health targets can be assessed in the future.

Exchanging best practices and expertise

An important element of the partnership’s future work is the exchange of expertise and best practices, either by providing relevant tools and best practices via the portal, or by targeted educational exchanges.

The initiative in brief

In summary, the initiative aims to achieve “P3C3”:

  • portal;
  • products for policy support, such as tools for analysis and reporting, reports and assessments, and evidence synthesis;
  • partners, such as committed Member States, sustainable networks of experts, institutes and countries;

in order to:

  • commit policy-makers to using the best data, information and evidence for their policy development;
  • complement, by not repeating existing work, but adding to the existing body of evidence; and
  • communicate, by making sure that relevant information becomes fully available and easily accessible for use in effective ways.