The Journal of Global History this November features an article by Martin Gorsky and Christopher Sirrs on the history of international health systems metrics. The article draws on an exhaustive survey of the published statistical series of several international organisations, including the League of Nations Health Organisation (LNHO), WHO, OECD and World Bank. It reveals that despite the comparatively recent origin of the term ‘health system’, which gained currency from the 1960s, international organisations since the 1920s have collected data juxtaposing system elements including financing, human resources, utilisation and health outcomes. The LNHO was pioneering in this regard, its International Health Yearbooks presenting country-level data that were not systematically collated by its successor, the WHO, until the end of the 20th century. ‘World Health By Place’ analyses the evolving politics of international health statistics, highlighting how the appearance and disappearance of particular indicators such as health expenditure reflected changing trends and assumptions in international health.
Here’s a picture from Christopher’s research at the British Library, testing the staff’s patience by ordering several trolleys of the WHO’s World Health Statistics Annual!