Fighting TB Starts with Data

October 18th, 2018 | Viewpoint


USAID announced September 26 a new approach to fight tuberculosis: the Global Accelerator to End TB, a business model to treat 40 million people by 2022 through performance-based investments. One of USAID’s initial efforts on this front is a program to improve the collection, analysis, use, and global harmonization of TB data.

The state of available data on TB prevalence, programs, and their results differs from place to place. Data originate in medical records, laboratory tests, patient demographics and disease outcomes, services provided and measures of their effectiveness, special population studies, and geographic distribution of medicines and disease prevalence.

Improved analysis of data locally and data aligned for global comparisons, however, are critical to the fight. If prevalence is measured one way in one country and another way in a second country — and barely, if at all, in a third country — the world will not know what the true status is of TB. Are we winning or losing? Other imperatives are a coordinated strategic plan to gather and use data for decision making, standard data systems to facilitate collaboration among all actors in this new surge of action against TB, and comprehensive communication about TB, which is important to raise awareness and promote education. 

Improved TB data that are reliable for performance measures to guide interventions are at the heart of one new USAID project: TB Data, Impact Assessment and Communications Hub (TB DIAH), just awarded to MEASURE Evaluation, at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). This $36 million project focuses on assessing existing TB data, building capacity for countries to be self-reliant in using data to improve planning and solutions to address TB, and building a global repository of state-of-the-art TB data and resources as a lasting global good.

To ensure that data are reliable, all health information systems and studies need means of assessing and ensuring data quality. Reliable data then need to be analyzed and the findings communicated clearly to stakeholders at all levels — including local clinics, national agencies, and global organizations. Solutions need to be created to address data gaps and new tools and practices created to improve data. TB DIAH, in partnership with stakeholders, will assess what exists on these fronts and propose innovative and cost-effective solutions to understand data so that communicating the right information translates data into action.

USAID is putting its money where action originates—investing in high-quality data generation and capacity to visualize and act upon what that data tells us. With the right data, all organizations working to fight TB will be a powerful part of the picture. Let’s get started.

This guest post by Stephanie Mullen, DrPH, and Jim Thomas, PhD of MEASURE Evaluation was published on October 10, 2018 on the Sciencespeaks blog. Crossposted with permission. 

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