This paper discusses the rationale for establishing a refugee health information system (HIS) in countries that host camp-based refugee populations. It attempts to dispel a common misconception that refugee and national HIS are two competing and incompatible alternatives. Instead it describes how a refugee HIS can be used to support data management within host government systems.
Refugee data are of public health importance to ministries of health. However, the unique characteristics of refugee settings prevent host governments using their existing HIS to directly monitor refugee health programmes. Refugee settings require an HIS that is adapted to meet their specific monitoring needs but that can continue to uphold national reporting requirements and share data with host governments long after they have been established.
UNHCR has developed a standardized refugee HIS for its camp-based field operations that is freely available to partners. While this system has several benefits for national information systems, closer collaboration is required between stakeholders to better integrate national and refugee systems. This includes the development of guidance materials, standardization of evaluation methodologies, organization of joint training and evaluation missions, and in dissemination and use of refugee data.
At the global level, more concerted efforts are needed to harmonize indicator selection and define common standards for coding data. This will help promote interoperability and integration between national and refugee HIS, and ensure the results can support decision-making at all levels of management and by all partners including refugees, host governments, United Nations agencies and the wider international community.