Where is Egypt's DHS 2012?

30 May 2012

The Ministry of Health conducts a Demographic and Health Survey every three years. It is the only comprehensive national survey to give a panoramic view of the demographic and health reality in Egypt. The ministry always commissions El-Zanaty and Associates to conduct the survey, which is funded by USAID and supported by UNICEF. Egypt's DHS is part of the MEASURE DHS project, a USAID project which aims at generating information to help guide policies and plans on nutrition, population and various health issues, especially reproductive health, as well as monitoring and evaluating these policies.

The project began worldwide in 1984 to provide assistance to developing countries, and has earned a high reputation for the validity and quality of the data it collects. In Egypt, household surveys began in the eighties and the most recent DHS was released in 2008. Data from these surveys provided insights about child mortality, fertility, family planning, HIV and other emerging health issues such as Hepatitis C, or Avian influenza. For the last three decades, such surveys have been an indispensable resource for any researcher in the fields of health, gender, sexuality or nutrition. It was also a primary source for all demographers and population policy-makers in Egypt.

In a country like Egypt, the right to access to information, the flow of information, and government disclosure of information are not among the country's strong points. In Egypt there is no accurate data about what percentage of the population is made up of Christians, Nubians, Bedouins or any other ethnic or religious group. It is impossible to find out how many incidences of rape, homicide, or armed robbery happen every year. The government either does not have this data or just does not disclose it, as it is classified as "confidential". Restrictions on access to information is extended to data collection. Non-governmental entities do not have the right to conduct any kind of survey or field study, even if they have approval from ethics committees, unless it is approved by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization And Statistics (CAPMAS), which always tends to avoid and prevent research on sensitive issues like sexuality, abortion or sectarianism.

One would have thought that the Egyptian revolution would end such practices, which cannot be dissociated from the pre-revolution "police state". Unfortunately the scarce resources which were available before the revolution seem to be vanishing. The new Egypt DHS was supposed to be released in 2012, since it is conducted every three years. The preparation, field work, and all the other different stages of report preparation take almost more than a year. Theoretically, the process should have begun by August 2011. Clearly, 2011 was not a particularly stable year, and not particularly conducive to conducting such a national comprehensive survey, and the Ministry of Health may have been occupied with the clashes still erupting every few months. Although we appreciate the burdens placed on the Ministry of Health, we think it should start preparation immediately for the new EDHS.

Post- revolution Egypt will rely heavily on evidence-based information in designing its new population policies, nutrition strategy, child health care plan and strategies to combat endemic diseases. It is shameful that the revolution could be the reason behind the halt in data collection. This revolution sought liberty and freedom, and among those freedoms is the freedom to seek, receive and impart information. I call upon all concerned researchers and demographers, all research entities such as the Population Council, and Cairo Demographic Center, UN bodies like UNICEF, UN Women, and UNFPA, and all human rights and feminist NGOs who believe in freedom of information to ask the Ministry of Health to resume DHS production and to begin preparing the new survey immediately.