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A review of national health surveys in India
Authors: Rakhi Dandona, Anamika Pandey, and Lalit Dandona
Source: Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 94(4): 286–296A; doi: 10.2471/BLT.15.158493
Topic(s): Data quality
Data use
Country: Asia
Published: FEB 2016
Abstract: Several rounds of national health surveys have generated a vast amount of data in India since 1992. We describe and compare the key health information gathered, assess the availability of health data in the public domain, and review publications resulting from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the District Level Household Survey (DLHS) and the Annual Health Survey (AHS). We highlight issues that need attention to improve the usefulness of the surveys in monitoring changing trends in India’s disease burden: (i) inadequate coverage of noncommunicable diseases, injuries and some major communicable diseases; (ii) modest comparability between surveys on the key themes of child and maternal mortality and immunization to understand trends over time; (iii) short time intervals between the most recent survey rounds; and (iv) delays in making individual-level data available for analysis in the public domain. We identified 337 publications using NFHS data, in contrast only 48 and three publications were using data from the DLHS and AHS respectively. As national surveys are resource-intensive, it would be prudent to maximize their benefits. We suggest that India plan for a single major national health survey at five-year intervals in consultation with key stakeholders. This could cover additional major causes of the disease burden and their risk factors, as well as causes of death and adult mortality rate estimation. If done in a standardized manner, such a survey would provide useable and timely data to inform health interventions and facilitate assessment of their impact on population health.