Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Assessing Urban Health Data: A Case Study of Maternal and Child Health Data in Cape Town, South Africa (lay summary)

This is a lay summary of the article published under the DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-77685-9_7

Published onApr 19, 2023
Assessing Urban Health Data: A Case Study of Maternal and Child Health Data in Cape Town, South Africa (lay summary)

Collecting data the right way could boost health of Cape Town mothers and children

Researchers have found that while there’s a lot of information available about mother and child health in Cape Town, it’s often badly organised and difficult to access. This could make it challenging to design healthcare programs that really meet the needs of the city’s people.

As more people move to urban areas, ensuring that their healthcare needs are being met is a top priority. To do so, healthcare organisations and local governments need the right information, so they can plan effective healthcare strategies. While this is a priority for all people in urban areas, it is especially important when dealing with vulnerable groups like mothers and young children.

In South Africa, a lot of work has been done to build healthcare facilities that serve mothers and children, and to collect healthcare data for this group. Despite this, rates of HIV transmission from mother-to-child are still high, and there are still many deaths of children younger than 5.

In this study, the researchers wanted to find out how much healthcare data was available about mothers and children living in Cape Town. They were interested in their general health, as well as specific information about weights, heights, nutrition, and deaths. They also wanted to know whether there were gaps in the kinds of information available, and how healthcare data was accessed and used.

The researchers reviewed previous studies to understand how the data that was gathered improved knowledge of mother and child healthcare in the area.

They then tried to access the raw data from different sources and studies, so that they could analyse it themselves. They wanted to see how easy it was to find this information so it could be used to plan healthcare strategies.

Overall, the researchers found that while there was a lot of data available about mothers and children in the city, most of it would be difficult to use effectively when planning healthcare policies and projects.

This was because the way the data was collected wasn’t the same for different studies. This makes it hard to use data from different sources together to get a better understanding of the overall situation. The terminology used also differed between studies, so data couldn’t be easily compared.

Another problem was that while there was a lot of information about the population of the city as a whole, there was far less about smaller areas or communities. This makes it harder to plan healthcare strategies that meet the needs of specific groups of people, like mothers living in low-income areas.

They added that it was also difficult to gain access to sets of raw data, which could be used to perform their own analysis.

The researchers say that these findings show that there is a need for data to be collected in a more standardised way, so that it’s easier for future researchers to access and use. They also encouraged scientists from different disciplines to work together on public health issues, so that the best outcomes can be achieved for groups like mothers and children.

The study was a collaboration between scientists from South Africa, the USA and Germany, and forms part of a larger project on urban health in South Africa.


In 2016, a group of interdisciplinary collaborators from South Africa and Germany met to plan and execute a comprehensive review of the available data and literature on several topics of urban health in South Africa. These topics included environmental health, mental health, palliative care, and maternal and child health. The objective of the project was to understand the available data for urban health, which can inform academics, government, and non-governmental organizations about maternal, and child health in urban areas from a view of researchers in the study area and familiar to their environment as well as from an external view of researchers from different cultures and with different experiences.

This chapter focuses on the experiences related to maternal and child health; experiences for Although our exercise of collecting small scale urban health data was done to understand the situation in South Africa, it could be applied to any setting in a low, middle, or high-income country. It is clear that while maternal and child health data exist for urban settings, there is a need for the data to be better organized, standardized, more comprehensive, and be easy to use across disciplines. This situation is in no way unique to urban South Africa, in fact in many countries around the world data may not exist or may exist in an even more reduced form. However, the focus on South Africa provides a good understanding on what is and what could be about the most basic step of urban health informatics: structured/linked data.


This summary is a free resource intended to make African research and research that affects Africa, more accessible to non-expert global audiences. It was compiled by ScienceLink's team of professional African science communicators as part of the Masakhane MT: Decolonise Science project. ScienceLink has taken every precaution possible during the writing, editing, and fact-checking process to ensure that this summary is easy to read and understand, while accurately reporting on the facts presented in the original research paper. Note, however, that this summary has not been fact-checked or approved by the authors of the original research paper, so this summary should be used as a secondary resource. Therefore, before using, citing or republishing this summary, please verify the information presented with the original authors of the research paper, or email [email protected] for more information.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?