WHO do you turn to for health data?

By ALEX FRUIN

During my semester studying abroad last fall, I became interested in the different patterns of international diseases. When I returned home with my new interest, I realized that it was difficult to find a reliable source when searching for worldwide statistics and information. Eventually, I came to rely mostly on the website of an organization most people are already quite familiar with — the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/en).

I find that the main reason that this site is so reliable  is because it is collected and compiled by people stationed all over the world, rather than just a few doctors or researchers in America who have not collected the data themselves but have simply compiled it.

One of the most useful features that I have found is the section of the website dedicated to each specific country. For example, if you as a journalist, needed health reports for a story on Afghanistan, you would be able to find the contact information for the WHO Representative in Kabul, as well as an overview of the country, any recent outbreaks, mortality information, basic statistics, and many charts and tables of data (http://www.who.int/countries/afg/en/) in just a few clicks.

Alternately, if a journalist is assigned a story on a specific disease, the website also has a section labeled “Health Topics.” Under this section, if you needed data on a disease such as Malaria, you would find necessary fact sheets, links to aid programs, and statistics — of the prevalence of the disease in each country or region (http://www.who.int/topics/malaria/en/).

Perhaps some of the most important information found on the site that could be useful to a journalist would be the many charts and graphs that the World Health Organization has compiled to compare data across different countries and regions. Before finding all of the great information the WHO had to offer, whenever I wanted to look up statistics to compare country to country, many websites would use data from different years to compare countries. I found this frustrating because when writing articles or compiling research for a news source, I wanted the most recent data for all of the countries I was researching (http://www.who.int/research/en/). While many journalists know of the World Health Organization, the information on its website may be overlooked as a valuable tool for health stories and research.

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