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Improving public health with open data

Tamar Manuelyan Atinc's picture

Major funders of public health research – the World Bank included – have today issued a joint statement to champion the wider sharing of data to achieve better public health worldwide.

Mother and boy being attended to by Health Education nurse. Sri Lanka. Photo © Dominic Sansoni / World Bank

This is a great step forward: advances in public health throughout the decades, perhaps like no other discipline, have been underpinned by careful research based on data. An early and celebrated example is the epidemiologist John Snow’s study of the relationship between the water supply and cholera outbreaks in central London in 1854, which used public data to establish the link between contaminated water and the disease. More recently, the mapping of the human genome was completed by a global collaborative effort based on the sharing of effort and data.

In many fields and in many countries, sharing of data is fast becoming normal practice (www.data.gov). An environment where data are open, freely available and easily accessible to all can provide tremendous benefits for development. At the World Bank we opened our databases last April. And there are great examples of agencies starting to routinely provide access to their datasets, which were previously closely guarded, such as data collected through household surveys.