Guide for the establishment of health observatories - First edition, April 2016
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The “health observatory” concept of gathering, analysing, synthesizing and sharing of reliable and quality health information on population health and health services has become increasingly popular since the 1970s. First adopted in France (1974), then Belgium, Italy and later England (Liverpool, 1990), the application of the concept has steadily extended. There are now over 60 observatories functioning throughout the world, and many other platforms which perform an observatory function but are not formally termed “observatories”. In most of these countries, observatories are subnational (e.g. at district, regional or municipal levels). There are also a further number of subject-specific observatories which are not included in this number.
Health observatories have also been set up with a decision support function at the regional level, with WHO observatories operating in the African, Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, European and Western Pacific regions. In addition, WHO has developed a Global Health Observatory to bridge these regional counterparts.
The term ‘observatory’ refers to the function of monitoring health events and trends using objective and verifiable methods. Their purposes vary but the major objectives are: monitoring health situations and trends, including assessing progress toward agreed-upon health-related targets; producing and sharing evidence; and, supporting the use of such evidence for policy and decision making.
Through the Ouagadougou Declaration on Primary Health Care and Health Systems in Africa and the Algiers Declaration on Research for Health in Africa, WHO Member States requested the WHO Regional Director for Africa to establish an African Health Observatory (AHO). AHO was duly established in 2011 to serve four core functions: storage and sharing of data and statistics that can be viewed and downloaded; monitoring of health situations and trends, including progress on internationally agreed targets such as the health MDGs/SDG; production and sharing of evidence and knowledge by analysis and synthesis of information; and support for networking and communities of practice for improved use of such evidence and knowledge for policy and decision-making. It also supports countries in establishing their own national health observatories to strengthen their national health information systems.
In November 2012, during the sixty-second session of the Regional Committee for Africa in Luanda, health ministers of the African Region agreed to establish national health observatories in their respective countries and adopted the resolution entitled “The African Health Observatory: an opportunity to strengthen information systems health through national health observatories “. With the support of the AHO, several countries are developing their own national health observatories (NHOs) to strengthen their national health information systems.