The Need for Demographic and Health Surveillance:
Demographic and Health Surveillance is the continuous tracking of demographic and health data from a particular place for a continuous period of time. Such a program gives valid and reliable health information to health planners and facilitates evidence-based action unlike the traditional health system oriented generation of data.
Traditional sources of health information collected from health facilities such as health centers and hospitals often serve as the basis for health-services planning and allocation of resources in Ethiopia. Yet, healthfacility-based data often provide fragmentary and biased information. Not all population groups have geographic or socio-economic access to health facilities. Those who do have such access are usually selfselected and are often those who visit health-care facilities when they suffer from a serious illness.
Great majorities of poor people have less access to health-care facilities than those who are better off, and they often treat themselves or use traditional health care remedies. Women may suffer from gender disparities as well, with time and cultural constraints on the use of health-care facilities, particularly in rural settings. Services for children are also severely constrained. Thus, health-facility-based data are not representative of the health problems of all rural and urban communities and do not therefore reflect the health status of the population.
This void of valid health information for a large segment of the Ethiopia’s population makes it difficult for policymakers to depend on valid information on the health situation of these people. The need to establish a reliable information base to support health development has never been given due attention.
Ideally, reliable health information should be community based, inclusive of all groups, and collected prospectively and continuously. Such an ideal is best met through demographic and health surveillance systems collecting demographic, environment and health data on selected population samples. Such a continuous generation of data is indispensable in providing the necessary health services and advancing health science research and promoting quality education. Moreover, it plays a significant role in health planning strengthening staff research capacity and institutional development.