The Kingdom signed a five-year accord with a US-based institute to provide an analysis of mortality rate and disease burden in the Kingdom.
The Saudi government is to fund the project with a SR 37 million grant.
A senior official from the Ministry of Health told Arab News yesterday that the ministry and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) launched an innovative, multiyear collaboration to create an integrated tracking system to monitor the health status of Saudi citizens and to fix health policy priorities.
The agreement was formalized last week between Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, Dr. Christopher Murray, IHME director, and Dr. Ali Mokdad, professor of global health at IHME and the head of IHME's integrated surveillance systems research team.
Deputy Minister for Health Affairs Mansour Al-Hawasi, Deputy Minister of Health for Planning and Development Mohammed Al- Khoshaim, Undersecretary to the Ministry of Health for Public Health Ziad Al-Memish and General Supervisor of the Saudi Field Epidemiology Training Program Mohammad Al-Mazroa were also present during the launch. The official said the program came under the directives of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Crown Prince Naif, deputy premier and interior minister, who are keen on providing citizens with the best health care possible.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is an independent global health research center at the University of Washington that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world's most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them. IHME makes this information freely available so that policy-makers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions about how to allocate resources to best improve public health.
Saudi Arabia has seen rapid economic growth and an expansion of educational facilities since 1970. IHME found that the average years of schooling for men and women in Saudi Arabia have increased by more than four years since 1970 and that both child and adult mortality dropped significantly.
"Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health is modernizing the country's health information system in an effort to deliver integrated and comprehensive health care services," Al-Rabeeah said, adding that this was part of the government's plan to promote general health and prevent diseases Kingdom-wide. "Our level of knowledge is growing dramatically, and information itself has become a vital commodity," Al-Rabeeah said. "Development in general and particularly in the field of health care is increasingly dependent upon significant investments in information technology, and upon an organization's ability to integrate information technologies system-wide."
To achieve that goal, Saudi Arabia asked IHME to create a tracking system that would give policymakers both real-time snapshots of the country's health status and long-term trend lines showing where the country is heading. The new system will link all available health data sources, including hospital records, pharmacy records, and surveys to provide timely data policy action, the minister said.
"Saudi Arabia is out in front in the way it is thinking about improving the health of the population," Mokdad said. "With a tracking system that will work at the national and subnational levels, the Ministry of Health will be able to pinpoint what is working and what is not and then take the necessary steps to raise the level of health for all its people."
IHME pioneered a multisource health tracking system through a pilot project with Public Health-Seattle & King County that monitors disparities in chronic diseases and risk factors for disease.
In the first phase of the project, IHME will conduct a baseline study of the burden of disease at the national level, focusing on a core set of conditions and risk factors. This will inform health policy recommendations and actions that can be taken to reduce the burden of these conditions and risk factors.
The second phase will involve a scale-up of an integrated tracking system. The goal in this phase will be to deepen and broaden the country's capacity to gather data from multiple sources and analyze the data to measure the burden of diseases, injuries and risk factors. This capacity strengthening component will include training of researchers and policymakers within Saudi Arabia in metrics and evaluation and training at the University of Washington.
In its third phase, IHME will develop a more refined survey to generate a subnational burden of disease study with an expanded set of conditions and risk factors. This survey will be designed in such a way that it can be part of the ongoing integrated population tracking system.
"We have seen with our county-by-county analysis of life expectancy in the United States that there can be huge variation in health outcomes across a country," Murray said. "Many countries, like Saudi Arabia, have the building blocks right now to start addressing these health disparities. The question is how they can make the best use of their resources to have the greatest health impact. That's what this partnership is going to find out."