The estimation of global health outcomes just became much more transparent.
On June 28, the Guidelines for Accurate and Transparent Health Estimates Reporting, also known as GATHER, were officially launched after two years of hard work and collaboration by a group of population health experts convened by the World Health Organization (WHO). The aim of the guidelines: to improve the accuracy and candor of population health research.
Health estimates, which can fill gaps when data are incomplete or unavailable for a particular population or time, are important tools for decision-makers and policymakers seeking to prioritize health agendas. This is why it is crucial that estimates are as precise as possible, and that the methods used to obtain them are accessible and open for scrutiny.
In part because the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) believes in open health data (for example, making our results freely available), IHME’s Drs. Chris Murray and Theo Vos participated in the working group that drew up the guidelines. Other collaborating organizations included WHO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Ottawa, the University of Edinburgh, PLOS Medicine, and The Lancet, among others.
“The world is now being shaped by numbers,” explained Dr. Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet, during a recent trip to IHME in Seattle. “Reliable data are now informing decisions at the highest political level across all nations of the world. It is crucial that we can be sure about what those numbers are telling us.”
In anticipation of the GATHER launch, the worldwide network of collaborators who contribute to the Global Burden of Disease study (for which IHME serves as the coordinating center) made the choice to become compliant with the new guidelines, and they hope to see other groups and organizations follow their lead. The Lancet and PLOS Medicine, which both published the GATHER statement upon its launch, plan to make the GATHER guidelines a requirement for groups submitting papers exhibiting health estimates, setting a new standard that will lead to higher-quality publications.
Dr. Murray describes the GATHER guidelines as, “an important step in the direction of transparency and replicability of findings.” If the aim is to produce truly accurate health estimates, researchers must allow others to dig deeper into their methods and invite scrutiny and debate.
The GATHER guidelines should also be used by policymakers when looking for the best health estimates of which to base important decisions for their communities. If a group is compliant with GATHER, policymakers can rest assured that any reports that a group releases are rigorous and reviewable, which in turn will lead to better decisions and more impactful policy action.
The 18 GATHER best practices range from listing funding sources to making the computer code used to obtain findings publicly available and useable. The full GATHER statement and checklist can be found on its new website: www.gather-statement.org.