Metrics of the Sustainable Developments Goals: Can we trust our data?

un-sdgs-2018_european sting

(United Nations, 2018)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Laura Jung, a medical student from Leipzig, Germany. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

From a public health perspective, metrics of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) are seen as the main instrument telling us if set goals have been achieved. They are also an unquestionable driver which enables and encourages efforts to produce better health.

We use large, quantitative data sets to compare health improvements in different regions and try to make sense of the complexities around sustainable development. However, the benefits of these quantitative metrics are not indisputable and several difficulties might arise.

Firstly, while the numbers might be presented as facts, they are often rather loose estimates of the situation than actual counts. This is certainly the case for measures of maternal mortality, which are especially hard to obtain in countries where most deliveries are taking place outside of Health Care Facilities.

Reasons for inaccurate numbers include lack of diagnostic methods or alternative explanations for causes of death as well as deliberate data manipulation in order to improve hospital performances (Adams 2016). The methods used to create big data sets seem useful to produce a “snapshot”, but might be inappropriate to capture a more holistic picture of local situations.

No matter what exactly the reasons for imprecise data might be, they are often not acknowledged in the later process of data handling. Once collected, the numbers travel to data management centres in the Western World, where they are analysed in the most careful way but without taking their origin into account.

The lack of interaction with the local can be seen critical. As all too often, once the data is published with apparently objective tables and informative graphs, it is uncritically accepted as a fact. If we don´t want to base decisions about health policies and funding on loose estimates, we should start to more careful with these numbers and stop to systematically disentangle them from their context, just because it gives as the feeling of making complex health issues more manageable.

A second, and perhaps even more important issue around metrics in development, is our tendency to perceive quantitative data as apolitical and value-free. An unbiased starting point for evidence-based decision-making, leaving out personal preferences and politics. We should be aware that metrics are never actually neutral.

When we look closely, we can see how historical inequalities are reproduced through measurement of development. What is measured and which methods are used, is decided in powerful headquarters in the Western World.  Local perspectives are often not included in the agenda setting and methods of data collection are more adapted to the needs of donor organisations than that they are reflecting local realities.

That doesn’t mean metrics cannot be useful for the evaluation of the SDGs. But when we use them, we should be aware that we might simplify complex health issues to statistical problems and that our data might not always be as precise and as neutral as we would like it to be.

References

Adams, Vincanne, ed. 2016  Metrics. What counts in global health. Critical global health

About the author

Laura is a medical student from Leipzig, Germany. Currently she is taking a break from her medical studies and intercalates in a one-year MSc programme in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Africa is launching the world’s largest free trade area – but these are the stumbling blocks

South Africa still hasn’t won LGBTQ+ equality. Here are 5 reasons why

Political solution ‘long overdue’ to protect the children of eastern Ukraine

Commission refers Denmark to the Court for failing to fulfil its obligations in relation to the name “Feta”

Monday’s Daily Brief: WFP mulls ‘last resort’ Yemen aid suspension, top peacekeeping awardee announced, abuzz over Bee Day, Ebola threat ‘very high’

Superconductors: the miracle materials powering an energy revolution

Syria: Why did the US now take the Russian offer for a truce? What next?

Myanmar: Conflict resolution at ‘total standstill’, military commanders must answer for crimes against humanity

Brexit: With May gone the Tory divide is to sink the UK despite Brits wanting to ‘Remain’

Roxane in Cambodia

The European Sting @ the European Business Summit 2014 – Where European Business and Politics shape the future

How to outsmart bias when you’re recruiting

Eurozone cannot endure any longer youth marginalisation

Gender Equality and medicine in the 21st Century: we want the fair share

Burned in the Amazonian forest: Your health may be in danger

This is what happens when a school swaps french fries for quinoa

Without tackling ‘gross inequalities’ major issues will go unsolved, warns UN rights chief Bachelet

Post-Brexit muddled times: the resignation of UK’s top ambassador and Theresa May’s vague plans

UN chief lauds Fijians as ‘natural global leaders’ on climate, environment, hails ‘symbiotic relationship’ with land and sea

AI can be a game-changer for the world’s forests. Here’s how

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte: “Europe must listen to the people”

These are the world’s most future-proof cities

Is the EU denying its social character favouring a banking conglomerate?

INTERVIEW: UN’s top official in North Korea foresees ‘surge’ in humanitarian aid

FROM THE FIELD: ‘Harvested’ rainwater saves Tanzanian students from stomach ulcers, typhoid

Guterres says justice must be done following deadly Burkina Faso convoy attack

Consumer protection: Commission welcomes political agreement by Council on the Representative Actions Directive

Armed groups threaten every child in Central African Republic, UNICEF warns

Zero carbon by 2050 is possible. Here is what we need to do

Croatian Presidency priorities discussed in the European Parliament

Nearly 180,000 displaced by northeast Syria fighting as needs multiply: UN refugee agency

Blockchain will make sure green pledges aren’t just greenwash: a new initiative by young leaders at the World Economic Forum

‘Open, cordial, and frank discussions’ held over future Somalia-UN relationship

Gender Equality in Medicine: are we now so different from the Middle Ages?

How can we build a workforce for our digital future?

On youth unemployment: unemployment is even bleaker for youth with disabilities

Trump’s pounding of Iran less harsh than expected, leaves arrangement open

Young activists do the talking as UN marks World Children’s Day

A Sting Exclusive: “One year on from the VW scandal and EU consumers are still in the dark”, BEUC’s Head highlights from Brussels

Chart of the day: These countries have the highest share of electric vehicles

Chicken soup for the digital soul: how to bring community back online

These are America’s most dangerous jobs

EU Parliament: Follow the fraudulent money and confiscate it

Poverty data never tells the whole story

Online shopping across the EU to be easier from 3 December

Visiting North Korea, UN relief chief spotlights funding shortfall to meet humanitarian needs

Monday’s Daily Brief: #ClimateAction for the Pacific, Gaza blockade, attack in Burkina Faso

EU leading in global agri-food trade

Medical deserts in the European Union: the practicalities of universal health coverage

Top UN officials strongly condemn ‘horrible terrorist act’ in Nairobi

EU’s guidelines on net neutrality see the light although grey areas do remain

Yemen: UN envoy asks Security Council for more support ‘to move back’ to the negotiating table

Amazon sinks while our breath sinks

Greece @ MWC14: Greek-born mobile champions at MWC 2014

This is what’s happening to the Amazon, according to NASA

Service and Sacrifice: Ugandan ‘Blue Helmets’ support UN efforts to bring peace to Somalia

TTIP is not dead as of yet, the 15th round of negotiations in New York shouts

Taliban-led violence during recent Afghan polls leaves record high numbers of civilians dead – UN

The great challenge of the 21st century is learning to consume less. This is how we can do it

Civil society organisations disenchanted with “Youth Guarantee”

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s