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Guide to Using Datasets
Data Collection

Nationally representative surveys collect a wealth of information on widely different topics in a specific country. The information is processed and presented in the final survey report containing a number of tables that provide information on specific indicators in a country. The DHS Program supports a range of data collection options that can be tailored to fit specific monitoring and evaluation needs of host countries.

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Survey Questionnaires

The basic approach of The DHS Program is to collect data that are comparable across countries. To achieve this, standard model questionnaires have been developed, along with a written description of why certain questions or sections have been included. These model questionnaires—which have been reviewed and modified in each of the six phases of The DHS Program—form the basis for the questionnaires that are applied in each country. Typically, a country is asked to adopt the model questionnaire in its entirety, but can add questions of particular interest. However, questions in the model can be deleted if they are irrelevant in a particular country. 

  • Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) are nationally representative population-based surveys with large sample sizes (usually between 5,000 and 30,000 households). In all households, women age 15-49 are eligible to participate; in many surveys men age 15-54(59) from a sub-sample are also eligible to participate. There are three core questionnaires in DHS surveys: A Household Questionnaire, a Women’s Questionnaire, and a Men's questionnaire. There are also several standardized modules for countries with interest in those topics.

    DHS questionnaires have changed extensively since the first phase. For this reason there is a different recode definition for each DHS phase. However, if a variable is present in one or more phases, that variable has the same meaning in each phase in which it is present. If a question is dropped from one phase to another, the name of the variable used for that question is not reused. The variable will not be present in the recode definition of the phase where it was dropped. If a new question is added to the core questionnaire a new variable will be added to the recode definition.  View current and previous versions of the DHS questionnaire in the DHS Questionnaire Library.

  • Service Provision Assessment (SPA) surveys are conducted in health facilities and communities to obtain information about the health and family planning services available in a country. Each SPA survey includes a nationally representative sample of over 400 facilities and covers all types of health services sites from hospitals to health posts. Public, private, and faith-based institutions are all represented.

  • The AIDS Indicator Surveys (AIS) are nationally-representative population-based surveys focusing on HIV/AIDS and related issues usually conducted in a sample of about 3,000 households. In all households, women and men age 15-49 are eligible to participate in the survey.

  • The Malaria Indicator Surveys (MIS) are nationally-representative population-based surveys focusing on malaria and related issues usually conducted in a sample of about 3,000 households. In all households, women age 15-49 and their children under age 5 are eligible to participate in the survey.

Biomarker Collection

Biomarkers are objective biologic measures of health conditions. For years, DHS has gathered data on height and weight to evaluate nutritional status of women and children. Now, using field-friendly technologies, DHS is able to collect biomarker data relating to a wide range of conditions including infectious and sexually transmitted diseases, chronic illnesses such as diabetes, micronutrient deficiencies, and exposure to environmental toxins.

Traditionally, much of the data gathered in DHS surveys is self-reported. Biomarkers complement this information by providing an objective profile of a specific disease or health condition in a population. Biomarker data also contribute to the understanding of behavioral risk factors and determinants of different illnesses.

Geographic Information

The DHS Program routinely collects geographic information in all countries. Using geographical data, researchers can link DHS data with routine health data, health facility locations, local infrastructure (roads, rivers), and environmental conditions.  All survey data is presented both nationally and by sub-national reporting area. These reporting areas are often, but not always, provinces or groups of provinces, and are included in all recoded data files.