Escudero JC. Sobre mentiras y estadísticas de salud en América Latina. [Concerning lies and health statistics in Latin America .] Revista Latinoamericana de Salud [Latin American Journal of Health] (México D.F., México) 1981 July; 1:105-117.

Objectives: Critical analysis of statistical reports issued by international organizations (United Nations, World Health Organization/ Pan American Health Organization), drawing upon the official statistics of member countries.

Methodology: Analytical and interpretive.

Results: The author points out that the “indirect methods” of demography (population censuses and survey research) show that mortality levels (especially infantile mortality) are appreciably higher than those official statistics published by individual countries and compiled in international annual reports. Re-estimated mortality levels are double, triple, and even quadruple the vital statistics officially reported by the countries’ health authorities. This problem is due partly to the under-recording of births and of deaths of those under one year of age.

Important problems also arise in recording cause of death. A study conducted in 1970 on the mortality of Latin American children younger than five years of age revealed that official statistics assigned parasitical or infectious disease as the cause of death in 34% of the cases. In reality, further analysis demonstrated that the principal cause of death in many of these cases was malnutrition. The system for selecting “basic cause of death” contained in the 8th revision of the International Classification of Diseases excluded malnutrition and therefore helped conceal this hidden cause of death.

Conclusions: The author asserts that the development of indirect methods of data collection would be neither complex nor costly. Numerous studies show the utility of such methods for enhancing information on population health.

Such problems of measurement are well known to governmental authorities in Latin America . A healthcare project designed to benefit the entire population becomes a pivotal first step in defining more accurate indicators of health.

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