Delayed NFHS derails health monitoring

Gaps in official health data are affecting planning. (File photo)

When the global Human Development Report, 2014, is released later this month, statistics from the new Multi-dimensional Poverty Index will be part of it for the fourth time.

For India, however, these numbers will be almost meaningless as a widening gap in its official health statistics undermines both domestic and global health monitoring efforts.

India’s main source of detailed health statistics is the now-delayed National Family Health Survey (NFHS). Fieldwork on the next round of survey should have begun in 2010. However, some in the Ministry were of the view that the NFHS should be discontinued and instead, the District-level Health Survey should be expanded to cover nutrition data, official sources told The Hindu.

Following protests, a decision was taken to stick with the NFHS.

“Essentially, the situation we have is that between 2004-05 and 2014-15, a period in which India has probably experienced more change than ever before as consumption data seem to indicate, we have no idea what happened with malnutrition,” a senior official at the India office of an international aid agency told The Hindu, asking that the organisation not be named as it works with the government.

“Training of the fieldworkers has begun and fieldwork will be conducted over 2014-15. The results will be out in the end of 2015,” Ratan Chand, Chief Director of Statistics at the Union Health Ministry, said on Tuesday. “There has been a delay of around two years. However, the new round will have all the information, including on nutrition, and also some additional information on non-communicable diseases,” Faujdar Ram, Director of the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), which conducts the survey, said.

The survey produces internationally accepted estimates of fertility and mortality, reproductive health, contraceptive use and violence against women, among several indicators.

The NFHS is relevant not just for India; it is part of the globally standardised Demographic and Health Surveys led by USAID. For instance, since 2010, the UNDP’s Human Development Reports have included a new index, the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI), created by Oxford University.

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