Estimates of global health indicators—which give insight into death and disease rates, document advances in development, and help policymakers monitor progress on important targets like MDG 4 and 5—are absolutely essential for improving global health. Global health estimates, however, are always imperfect and sometimes fiercely debated. Some controversy and disagreement erupted recently when two sets of competing maternal mortality rates were released. The controversy begs the question: Should health indicator estimates in areas like newborn and maternal health continue to be generated by UN agencies like WHO or should academics (like those at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation) now be leading the way?
To address this issue, PLoS Medicine—the leading open access medical journal—published a cluster of six articles commissioned from a series of experts that provide insights and opinion on what estimates mean for global health and how to move forward with better data, measurement, coordination, and leadership. Peter Byass provides the introductory article and argues why the “estimates debate” is so important. Ties Boerma and colleagues from WHO describe the agency’s work and future in health indicator monitoring. Christopher Murray and Alan Lopez argue for the predominant role of academia in the production and analysis of health indicators. Osman Sankoh argues for much stronger collaboration between generators of global health estimates, and individuals and organizations working at the country level. Finally, Wendy Graham and Sam Adjei argue that more leadership, better coordination, and a stakeholder-centric approach are needed in “responsible” global health estimation.