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We're going to get a status check now on a big goal that was set last year by leaders from around the world. They vowed to end extreme poverty by 2030. Well, this week at the U.N.'s General Assembly in New York, there has been a lot of talk about how to fulfill that. NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports there has been a surprising obstacle.
NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: The U.N.'s grand plan is spelled out in 17 global goals, not just ending poverty but fighting disease, ending inequality. And they add up to a sweeping commitment to make the world a much better place by 2030. But a lot of the people working on the ground to make this a reality say to achieve the goals, we need to know where we stand now. And here comes the obstacle.
It's shocking how little data there is about things like disease and employment in poor countries. Trevor Manuel is president of Global Health at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which, we should note, is one of NPR's financial supporters.
TREVOR MUNDEL: It is amazing. You know, all the data gaps that we have are just vast in the areas where there's this most pressing need.
AIZENMAN: For instance, governments and international organizations and researchers still aren't collecting basic statistics on a lot of major diseases in Africa. Take typhoid. We know it's a big killer in South Asia, but...
MUNDEL: There's a complete absence of solid data around what the dimensions of the problem are in Africa.
AIZENMAN: Or dengue, a very unpleasant virus that's spread by mosquitoes.
MUNDEL: You will speak to a lot of people - say, well, there's lots of dengue in Africa. What's the data behind that? There's no data.
AIZENMAN: This makes it hard to prioritize health spending.
MUNDEL: How do you plan for the future if you don't even know the state of the present?
AIZENMAN: Then there are areas where it's clear there's a health problem but there's just not enough information on how to solve it. For example, over 150 million kids in poor countries have stunted growth largely due to malnutrition. But the statistics that could tell us which micronutrients are crucial mostly come from rich countries where conditions are different.
MUNDEL: So the basic elements of what should a kid eat in order to be healthy - we don't know those in the countries that we're working in. We don't have that data.
AIZENMAN: The data gap is especially noticeable with statistics on girls and women even though a major focus of the global goals is to end the inequality girls and women face.
EMILY COUREY PRYOR: It is a really interesting and (laughter) daunting challenge.
AIZENMAN: Emily Courey Pryor heads Data 2X, a non-profit that recently did a detailed survey of global statistics on girls and women on everything from health and education to political participation.
PRYOR: And we found that there were 28 glaring gender data gaps on these topics when you look across the globe.
AIZENMAN: Like, it's hard to get solid numbers on the rates of domestic violence against women. Countries don't prioritize it. Also data that does exist on women is often based on faulty assumptions. Take employment. They'll fill the check if a homemaker is doing unpaid work on her family farm.
PRYOR: The data is biased from the get-go. And this is particularly an issue in the realm of economic participation - so women's work not being fully counted and valued.
AIZENMAN: As for the huge pool of data we do have, advocates say much of it is difficult to get hold of because it's hoarded by everyone from U.N. agencies to researchers.
Jody Heymann directs the WORLD Policy Analysis Center at UCLA. Her dream is to make it all accessible and for app developers to find a way to get it on smartphones.
JODY HEYMANN: It's exciting because we potentially have the tools now to really hold governments accountable for whether they do what we need them to do.
AIZENMAN: This data shortage is a problem, she says, but it's solvable. Nurith Aizenman, NPR News.
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