International network makes critical health and demographic data available

The International Network for the Demographic Evaluation of Populations and Their Health (INDEPTH) has launched two new data archives that will continue to build and strengthen capacity for research data management and sharing, giving global public health researchers greater access to health and science research in low- and middle-income countries.

The INDEPTH Data Repository is an online archive of high-quality datasets from INDEPTH member health and demographic surveillance systems centres. It is the first data repository that specialises in longitudinal population-based data from low- and middle-income countries.

INDEPTHStats is a website that has been developed by the network and is freely available to the general public. It will contain summary statistics, images and graphs of key health and demographic indicators generated from the INDEPTH member centres.

INDEPTHStats will provide researchers, government officials and policy makers with information that can guide their decision-making, including crude birth and death rates, age-specific fertility and death rates, and infant and child mortality rates, as well as numerous other health and demographic indicators. Additional indicators, such as death rates by cause of death, will be added in the near future.

The data are subjected to rigorous technical checks, first at the individual Health and Demographic Surveillance Systems centres and then within INDEPTH. New data will be added annually on 1 July.

Professor Osman Sankoh, Executive Director, INDEPTH Network, says: "The lack of research data management skills and capacity is generally acknowledged to be a major factor in why such data is not more generally available. These platforms present an opportunity to exert a powerful and sustained influence on the availability of well-documented and high-quality population-based data."

Dr Abraham Herbst, Principal Investigator of the INDEPTH project, iSHARE2, adds: "Sharing of data reinforces the principles of open scientific enquiry and allows more value to be extracted from the data beyond what the original investigators may be able to do. This is particularly true for basic data, such as genomic data, but is also relevant for public health data that INDEPTH will share. Re-analysis of the data may lead to new insights and new research."

The data sharing platform was made possible in part by a Strategic Award from the Wellcome Trust. Dr Jimmy Whitworth, Head of International Activities at the Trust, says: "We are proud to be a long-term supporter of INDEPTH, a unique network of demographic surveillance sites that collect, maintain, validate and analyse vital population data that are taken for granted in developed health systems.

"Making these valuable datasets widely accessible and providing the tools to make sense of them are significant achievements, and we believe such an approach to data sharing has tremendous potential for informing global public health policies."