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The World Health Organisation's annual report of the year 20001 illustrated at least two features of health information systems at present. One is that the public is eager to compare, evaluate, and discuss health topics using "information products" such as quantitative figures, rankings, and the like. By providing information on health results achieved in each country and on the levels of resources invested, the WHO was able to trigger off a debate of unprecedented vigour.
However, this report also produced a vivid example on the frailty of the data on which most health information is based. As a matter of fact, the WHO study is based on scanty data: a reasonable system of vital statistics is still missing in large areas of the world, and data on the activities in health services are rudimentary in many countries, even in the richest parts of the world. Even a novel concept, like the one brilliantly developed in the WHO report, cannot overcome basic failures. Expectedly, but sadly, a large part of the discussion on this WHO report has been about the (poor) information system rather than on the (poor) performance of health systems.
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