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Raising the bar in terms of research excellence - the best studies analysing public health data will soon get better.

Today, new guidelines for substantiating information collected on diseases, injuries, and deaths were formally adopted, completing a two-year collaboration among experts from several of the world's most prestigious health institutions, including the Centre for Statistics in Medicine at the University of Oxford.

"We believe these guidelines should be used every time new global health estimates are published in scientific journals," says Dr. Christopher J.L. Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The Guidelines for Accurate and Transparent Health Estimates Reporting, referred to as GATHER, promote best practices in reporting health estimates. Work to formulate the guidelines was funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Professor Gary Collins, Co-Director of CSM, says: "Population health indicators are important measurements for monitoring and comparing health over time and between populations, as well as guiding resource allocation. Yet many studies providing such estimates suffer from poor or incomplete reporting making such comparisons difficult. With a strong movement towards transparency and reproducibility, I hope the introduction of the GATHER Statement, and subsequent endorsement by leading medical journals will be the start of improving the completeness and usability of these studies."

"Transparency gets to the essence of credibility in health science," adds Dr. Murray, who served on the GATHER working group. "If researchers are not willing to be completely open about their sources of information and methods used for analysis, the credibility of their findings may be questioned."

In addition to Dr. Murray and Professor Collins, others in the group included representatives from The World Health Organization, the Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Public Health, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Ottawa, and two medical journals, The Lancet and PLOS Medicine.

The guidelines are intended to inform and direct the reporting of estimates of health indicators like causes of death, the incidence and prevalence of diseases and injuries, and indicators of some health determinants, such as people's behaviors. They are designed for studies that calculate health outcomes for multiple populations by combining several sources of information.

Dr. Murray says authors of all new publications of health estimates should use the guidelines to help ensure their data and analyses are appropriately documented and accessible to other researchers and policy makers. Examples of the guidelines include:

  • Defining the indicators, populations (including age, sex, and geography), and time periods for which estimates are made
  • Listing funding sources for the work to disclose potential conflicts of interest
  • Describing how the data are identified and accessed
  • Providing source information, such as references to individuals, institutions, data collection methods, and timespans of data collection
  • Disclosing ways to access analytic or statistical source codes used to generate estimates
  • Making data and analyses publicly available for other researchers

"Those who adhere to the guidelines will raise the bar in terms of research excellence," Dr. Murray says.

The EQUATOR Network facilitated the initial stages of the development of the GATHER guideline, providing invaluable advice to this international team from our experience with other guidelines.