Contribution of statistics in research in reproductive health
Appropriate and reliable data are much-needed for anyone involved in health care, whether at the level of planning, execution, research or practical implementation. Within the framework of clinical and operational research, the importance of a thorough experimental design, accurate data collection and a professional statistical analysis cannot be stressed enough. In particular, a good design of the study with involvement of the statistician from the very beginning is a rule of thumb which is very important but nevertheless often violated. In my research activities in Africa, where I worked on reproductive health (family planning, mother-child care, HIV/STD, women’s health in general), it quickly became clear that good and solid data are highly important for further planning, interventions, health economic decisions, etc.
Especially in international research the quality of information is extremely important, and this requires knowledge which we as doctors do not sufficiently have. For this reason, I myself took a course in epidemiology and statistics, in order to understand the basics and to be able to think in a more goal-oriented manner with regard to certain research questions. But what this course especially made me realize, is how important the role of a professional statistician can be. Since then, in all our projects we cooperate with statisticians, preferably with knowledge of and interest in health. Important here is that the statistician is involved from the beginning and not just brought in at the end to save the data. Many of my former students and current colleagues in Africa are now active as researchers in various fields and have obtained knowledge in monitoring and surveillance, good clinical practice in which obviously evidence-based thinking is important. They collaborate in clinical trials and use their data to establish guidelines in cooperation with international organizations. They gained experience on the field and are all asking for a better education in operational research methods and biostatistics.
I am convinced that this master’s programme gives an answer to an enormous need from field workers, where the important health problems cry out for a well-considered evidence-based approach.