Using DHS data just got a whole lot easier

On May 7, 2014, in data, research, by Karen Grepin

Yeah, the blog has been a bit dormant of late. It has been a busy year professionally and personally, leaving little time for the blog. But my excitement for a new research resource is so high, I figured it was worth breaking the blogging dry spell to tell you all about it.

As many of you know, I am an avid user of data from the Demographic and Health Surveys. In my mind, they are the single greatest resource in global health and yet they are remarkably underutilized. Part of the challenge is the learning curve that is required to go online, download the datasets and use them. In particular, if one wants to ask questions across countries or over time, it becomes even more complicated to download and utilize the data in that way. Over the years, I have developed code that allows me to quickly extract comparable data from the entire library of DHS files. I can do that because I know how to code, but this represents a great barrier to many people out there who want to use this data.

Which brings me to the new resources that I am so excited about: the newly released Integrated Demographic and Health (IDHS) resource from from IPUMS, the same folks that revolutionized the availability of international census data. The IDHS is designed to facilitate analysis of DHS data across time and across countries. Essentially, it has done the leg work to ensure that variables are coded consistently across countries and over time, has provided a web platform to allows the variables to be easily searched, and allows users to develop custom extracts. All of this at absolutely zero cost to the users.

The current version of the dataset only includes a subset of countries and surveys and it only includes the data on female respondents (i.e. the IR DHS files). But it is a work in progress and more will come soon. This morning, to see how it worked, I built a custom extract to look at cesarean section rates across countries over time. From when I activated my account to when I received the custom extract in my inbox, it took about 1 minute, or more like 2 as I had forgotten my password again. That happens a lot.

Innovations in open data is making the world a better place in so many ways. And with the research that will flow from these innovations, hopefully it will help make the world healthier too.

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