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A new study on the disease burden in Africa and Asia could offer a vital source of accurate information for formulating better health policies, according to Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

The first volume of Population and Health in Developing Countries, released by the IDRC on 21 January, presents data from household monitoring of births, deaths and migrations from key sites in 16 countries in Africa and Asia.

The book aims to address the lack of accurate information on diseases and demographics in many of the world’s poorest nations, where statistical models are often used as substitutes for real data in health care policy.

“The only way to find out the true burden of disease is to go into people’s homes,” says Don de Savigny, from the IDRC’s Tanzania Essential Health Interventions Project, one of the field sites. “The study will provide an important resource to scientists studying current survival patterns in Africa, especially in the face of a rising tide of HIV.”

The study is the first in a series produced by the International Network for the Continuous Demographic Evaluation of Populations and their Health in Developing Countries (INDEPTH), a network of 29 field sites in 16 countries.

Future volumes will include data on fertility trends, migration patterns, reproductive health, causes of mortality, and health equity.

“This is good news,” says Fred Binka, chairman of INDEPTH’s co-ordinating committee. “The need to establish reliable information to support health policies and programmes has never been greater. The profound inequities in health must be overcome.”

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