Health statistics and information systems

Reference Group on Health Statistics (RGHS)

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Background and Purpose

Comprehensive, timely, and reliable health and health-related statistics are fundamental for assessing the state of a population’s health and how it is changing. The World Health Organization (WHO) established a Reference Group on Health Statistics in 2013 to provide advice on population health statistics to WHO with a focus on methodological and data issues related to the measurement of mortality and cause-of-death patterns. The group facilitated interaction between multilateral development institutions and other independent academic groups with WHO expert groups in specific subject areas. The group met every two years, the last time in March 2017.

Recent developments in global health and an increased focus on monitoring and accountability suggest that the role, responsibilities, scope and membership of the Reference Group must be renewed to ensure that WHO and its Member States continue to benefit from the best possible scientific and strategic advice and support in the generation, use, interpretation, and dissemination of global health statistics. With the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Global Action Plan to accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs, WHO is designated as coordinating agency to monitor the health-related targets to determine whether the world is on track to reach the 2030 goals. Several other global health initiatives also require vastly improved health data, including monitoring progress on emerging issues such as noncommunicable diseases, mental health, and antimicrobial resistance. Furthermore, WHO will measure the impact of its Thirteenth General Programme of Work, 2019-2023 (GPW13) through its Results Framework which includes a balanced scorecard, the WHO Impact Framework, and country case studies. The WHO Impact Framework includes tracking of the ‘triple billion targets’ on: 1) one billion more people benefiting from Universal Health Coverage, 2) one billion more people better protected from health emergencies, and 3) one billion more people enjoying better health and wellbeing. Each target has a defined set of milestones and indicators to guide the measurement of progress while simultaneously addressing a comprehensive set of strategic priorities to ensure maximal gains in population health. WHO must also accelerate efforts among global partners, including academic and research groups, to improve analytical capacity and data collection systems in countries.

Given WHO’s renewed focus on accountability and the emphasis on supporting countries to benefit from relevant and actionable data to drive continuous and equitable health improvement and policy change, it is important and timely to renew the aims, structure, membership, and functions of the Reference Group so that it bring together the best scientific expertise and health statistical and systems knowledge in data and analytics, as well as delivery for impact science.

The primary role of the proposed Reference Group on Health Statistics is to advise and support WHO’s efforts to assist Member States to ensure maximal gains in population health and policies derived from health data, analytics, interpretation, and reporting. The Reference Group will serve as a broad scientific and strategic platform to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and application of health statistics beyond mortality and cause of death, to include human resources for health and health expenditure, and to accelerate efforts to improve data collection and analytical capacity in countries.

The membership profile of the Reference Group will, accordingly, cover a wide range of expertise and skills.


The goals and objectives of the Reference Group are to:

  • Provide technical and strategic advice to ensure that WHO’s practices in data processing and synthesis and producing and using population-health related statistics are evidence-based by:
    • Giving advice to WHO on data principles and best practices to guide comparable population health statistics at the global, regional, and country levels.
    • Functioning as a general global platform to discuss the challenges and progress in reporting on the health-related SDGs with a focus on the methodological and data issues, including data processing.
    • Advising WHO on engaging in different interagency processes involving global health statistics.
    • Providing expert advice to WHO about the interpretation and use of forecasting studies for policy dialogue, including the appropriateness of forecasting methods.
  • Promote GATHER compliance in producing population-health related statistics by:
    • Offering recommendations to WHO on standards for official statistics, including adherence to the GATHER Guidelines, and on data principles underlying the use or endorsement of external analyses and estimates.
  • Guide WHO on strengthening data and information systems for health by:
    • Providing strategic and scientific advice to WHO to support the strengthening of country data and information systems for health, including data generation and critical analyses of data quality.
  • Strengthen collaboration between WHO and external research groups in advancing the methodological agenda for population-health estimates by:
    • Advising WHO on a broad range of population-health related statistics with a focus on cost-effective approaches to identifying and resolving key data gaps and data quality issues.
    • Actively engaging in strengthening the scientific basis for global health estimates and related work, such as improving methods and skills for measuring patterns of cause-specific burdens of diseases, risk factors and injuries, and to collaborate wherever possible in the production of those estimates.
    • Facilitating collaboration and scientific exchange between disease-specific expert groups within WHO and work on cause-specific mortality and morbidity of diseases and injuries with partners.
    • Convening expert task forces on specialized topics that require in-depth technical work to advance the methodological agenda.

Recruitment of experts

Persons interested in joining the Reference Group on Health Statistics are invited to send an expression of interest, along with a recent Curriculum Vitae, to by 6 September 2019.


The Reference Group will use a flexible working model in which smaller sub-meetings with limited numbers of expert members will be organized to focus on specific topics. It is expected that the first meeting of the Reference Group will take place in Geneva in the fourth quarter of 2019 to finalise the Terms of Reference and to discuss priority tasks to be addressed over the next 18-24 months.

Last updated on 12 August 2019

Members of the Reference Group on Health Statistics (RGHS)

Members of the RGHS
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