Tag: open data

Belgium doesn’t score well in the Open Data Index (not speaking about health!)

The Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) released the Open Data Index, along with details on how their methodology. The index contains 70 countries, with UK having the best score and Cyprus the worst score. In fact the first places are trusted by the UK, the USA and the Northern European countries (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden).

And Belgium? Well, Belgium did not score very well: 265 / 1,000. The figure below shows its aggregated score (with green: yes, red: no, blue: unsure).

Open Data Index - Belgium

The issue with this graph is that you may first think it’s a kind of progress bar. For instance, in transport timetables, it seems Belgium reached 60% of a maximum. But the truth is that each bar represents the answer to a specific question. So the 9 questions are, from left to right:

  1. Does the data exist?
  2. Is it in digital form?
  3. Is it publicly available?
  4. Is it free of charge?
  5. Is it online?
  6. Is it machine readable (e.g. spreadsheet, not PDF)?
  7. Is it available in bulk?
  8. Is it open licensed?
  9. Is it up-to-date?

With the notable exceptions of government spending and postcodes/zipcodes, nearly all Belgian data is available in a way or another. That’s already a start – but … None of them are available in bulk nor machine readable nor openly licenced and only few of them are up to date. Be sure to read the information bubbles on the right of the table if you are interested in more details.

The national statistics category leads to a page of tbe Belgian National Bank. And here is one improvement that the OKF could bring to this index: there should be a category about health data. For Belgium we are stuck with some financial data from the INAMI (in PDF, not at all useful as is) but otherwise we have to rely on specific databases or the WHO, the OECD or the World Bank. The painful point is that these supranational bodies often rely on statistics from states themselves – but Belgium doesn’t publish these data by itself!

If you are interested in the topic, three researchers from the Belgian Scientific Institute of Public Health published a study about health indicators in publicly available databases, 2 years ago [1]. Their conclusions were already that Belgium should improve on Belgian mortality and health status data. And the conclusion goes on about politically created issues for data collection, case definition, data presentation, etc.

I was recently in a developping country (Vietnam) where we try to improve data collection: without reliable data collection it is difficult to know what are the issues and to track potential improvements. In the end, this is also applicable in Belgium: we feel proud of our healthcare system ; but on the other hand it is difficult to find health-related data in an uniform way. It is therefore difficult to track trends or improvements.

[1] Vanthomme K, Walckiers D, Van Oyen H. Belgian health-related data in three international databases. Arch Public Health. 2011 Nov 1;69(1):6.

Yesterday was International Day of Older Persons

On 14 December 1990, the United Nations General Assembly designated 1st of October the International Day of Older Persons. 1990 … it is already more than 20 years ago! People who signed the resolution at that time are now more than 20 years older. Some (most) of them probably are now considered as “old persons”. Do they still have the same view on elderly? Maybe the highlighted principles at that time (independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment, dignity, …) are too broad, too short, just enough?

So, already a century ago 😉 people were concerned by the dramatic changes in the composition of the world population. Thanks to progresses and greater availability of preventive measures and treatments more people are living longer and healthier. Even in countries where fertility rate is high, there will be less and less working-age adults per older adult. When you look at China, the percentage of people above 65 years old is projected to rise up to one fourth of the total population in only 40 years.

Actual and projected percentage of people above 65 in China
Actual and projected percentage of people above 65 in China (partial data from Leeder et al., Columbia University, 2005)

Imitating other countries like the USA, UK, the Netherlands, etc., Belgium recently launched its Open Data Initiative. Well, don’t expect fancy graphs nor any “web 2.0” widgets, it’s only a repository of data made available elsewhere. Most (if not all) data is provided “as it is”, in proprietary formats and not easily combined nor even visualized. So I welcome this initiative but just wish it will be at least maintained and updated or, better, grown into something better, just like other government open data websites. A dream will be to have at least direct data manipulation online, downloads in open formats, a clearly open license and why not an open API?

So, what about the elderly in Belgium? There is a section about population forecast by age (which comes from the economy ministry in Excel format).

Projected aging of population in Belgium
Projected aging of population in Belgium (data from http://data.gov.be)

The Belgian population will continue to increase. The older population in Belgium will increase faster than the younger population. But seen like this, the growth will not be very dramatic.

Actual and projected percentage of people above 65 in Belgium (data from http://data.gov.be)
Actual and projected percentage of people above 65 in Belgium (data from http://data.gov.be)

If we look at the projected percentage of people above 65 years old, we see that Belgium in 2010 is already at the same status as China in 2040. If experts say China will have an alarming percentage of old people in the future, the future is already here in Belgium! But it’s also true that Belgium took many decades to achieve this allowing some adaptations to take place. China will achieve it in only a few decades and will have to cope with these changes very quickly.

UN highlighted some challenges and ways to overcome them at a country / government level. The main issues will be to maintain older people as much as possible the same levels of health and independence as they enjoyed during their active lives.

N.B. For other sources of data in Belgium, one may be interested in visiting the Bureau fédéral du Plan, Statistics Belgium and the Statistics section of the National Bank of Belgium.