Health indicators are important tools used to understand the health status of any population. Health indicators mainly help in understanding the trends of population health through monitoring and surveillance. Subsequently, information obtained from these indicators is imperative for planning resources, targeting populations and prioritizing health care needs.
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One common indicator is the mortality rate, which encompasses subsequent mortality measures, and each sub-measure aids in the interpretation of a specific health domain. Life expectancy, which defines the mortality rate of a population, is the “average number of years a population of a certain age would be expected to live, given a set of age-specific death rates in a certain year,” according to Hiremath (2011, p. 8). An increase in life expectancy translates to an improvement in the population’s health status. Crude death rate is another indicator of mortality used to determine death rates in different populations; it refers to the “number of deaths per 1000 people in any population” (Hiremath, 2011, p. 8). A reduction in crude death rate means that the health status of the given population has improved. Infant mortality is also a useful sub-measure of mortality, and it refers to the “number of infants dying in a given year in relation to the total number of live births that year” (Hiremath, 2011, p. 8). Infant mortality rate is deemed an important health status indicator of the entire population and associated socioeconomic conditions. The infants are a vulnerable population that is very sensitive; hence, readily reacts to even the slightest changes in the health environment. Other measures of mortality rate include child mortality rate, under-5 proportionate mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, disease-specific mortality rate and proportional mortality rate.
The second common health status indicator is morbidity rate and associated health-related quality of life. Morbidity indicator is vital in augmenting mortality data. However, on its own, it is not a complete measure of health. The morbidity rates quantify the occurrences of illnesses and include the incidence and prevalence rates. Morbidity rates are what enable health care practitioners, academicians, and researchers quantify the occurrences of a particular ailment, for example, cancer. Incidence rates refer to the number of occurring new cases of a particular health condition in a population deemed to be at risk during a certain time. The incidence rates help to determine the rate at which the disease condition is spreading; hence, it helps to describe a disease condition as an epidemic, endemic or pandemic. The prevalence rate indicates the “total number of disease occurrences in a specific population at a certain point in time” (Goodacre, Collins & Slattery, 2013, p. 18). Nowadays, an improved version of morbidity is developed to enhance effectiveness in the measurement of disease: burden of disease.
Morbidity gains merit as a common indicator that describes the health of a population, but it fails to capture the element of disability, which mainly affects one’s quality of life after the occurrence of disease. Therefore, in addition to indicating the count of prevailing and emerging diseases, the improved burden of disease helps to evaluate the effect of certain diseases on a population and its quality of life. The burden of any disease is accounted for by the cumulative number of years of life lost (in the event of premature death) as a result of disease and the number of years of life an individual lives with disability as a consequence of the particular disease.
Understanding the health status of a population is very important in public health. As a result, mortality and morbidity are used as common indicators of measures of health. Over time, developments that include consequences arising from the occurrence of diseases to enhance effective evaluation of morbidity have been made.
Hiremath, S. (2011). Textbook of Preventive and Community Dentistry (2nd ed.). New Delhi: Elsevier.
Goodacre, S., Collins, C., & Slattery, C. (2013). Cambridge VCE Health and Human Development Units 3 and 4 Pack (2nd ed.). Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
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