World

Nutrition International and SickKids research team to develop new data collection tools to identify threats to health and nutrition in emergency situations

Ottawa, CANADA – Nutrition International and the Centre for Global Child Health at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), with support from the Government of Canada, are working on developing a set of new tools and strategies that will identify gaps in health and nutrition information and help governments in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) respond to, and plan for, emerging threats to health and nutrition during emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Good decisions start with good data. By supporting the work of Canada’s leading health researchers and nutrition experts, we are seeing how we can address gaps to build more resilient health systems around the world,” said the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada. “As Canada is a globally-renowned health and nutrition champion, we will always be there to leverage resources to build a healthier and stronger world.”

In LMICs, COVID-19 has disrupted public health surveys and data collection, exacerbating existing challenges in tracking health indicators. This information is used to allocate resources and deliver essential health services, and for policymakers to plan for and respond to a crisis.

“Nutrition is foundational for good health and a strong immune system,” said Joel Spicer, President and CEO, Nutrition International. “When disruptions like COVID-19 occur, governments need to know who is most at risk, and how to best target their resources to get results. Without good data, they are radar-blind and not having the right information at the right time can make a tough situation much worse. We want to make sure that when governments are faced with emergencies in the future, they are better able to ensure the health of their people – particularly those most impacted by malnutrition.”

Through a research project, Nutrition International and the SickKids Centre for Global Child Health will work on developing a set of tools and analytical methods, using existing data from multiple sources, to identify emerging risks to maternal and child health and nutrition, including disruptions in access to health care, nutrition services, intervention coverage and care-seeking behaviour. The goal of the project is to provide governments and organizations with new ways to quickly identify critical disruptions to healthcare and nutrition services and respond accordingly, through more targeted and efficient resource allocation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for alternative methodologies to monitor population health in LMICs even more pressing,” said Dr. Diego Bassani, Director, International Program Evaluation Unit, Centre for Global Child Health and Senior Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences at SickKids. “Data collection tools that can be implemented quickly, and that can generate reliable data more frequently and at lower cost than traditional probability sample surveys could be game changers in population health and nutrition for LMICs.”

Successful tools and analytical methods developed through this project will be made available to governments, health authorities and civil society organizations to inform data-driven policy and public health interventions in emergency and remote settings. These new tools could also provide a lower-cost alternative for rapid health surveillance in non-emergency settings.