Analysis: Health by numbers: A statistician’s challenge – baltimoresun.comPosted: May 16, 2012
“Malariologists would probably argue that verbal autopsy is a pretty poor instrument,” Mathers said. “If somebody has a fever and dies, there’s a tendency for malaria to be always the first thing that comes to mind.”
Then there’s the risk that countries might err on one side or the other. There are incentives both for over-estimating – larger numbers of disease cases could attract more funding – and to under-estimating, to demonstrate the effectiveness of a certain policy or program.
“If you say 20 percent of deaths are due to unknown symptoms, then of course all your other causes of death are going to be artificially low,” Mathers said.
Boerma stresses the WHO uses the best data available and doesn’t bend under political pressure. In the end, it publishes its own figures, and the methods by which it reached them, and stands by them even if they are different from data put out by national governments or research institutions.