Note: this story was originally published on Vital Strategies’ website.

At Festival de Datos, a global data conference held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Vital Strategies’ Data for Health Initiative team led sessions on civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) and public health surveillance before a gathering of data, global health and development experts from 93 countries.

The festival was organized by the government of Uruguay and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development to discuss data equity and governance, artificial intelligence, and the continued importance of civil registrations and vital statistics.

In Vital Strategies’ interactive session, “Counting Everyone: Advocating for and Using CRVS Data to Monitor Development Priorities,” Lara Tabac, Director of the Data for Health Initiative Global Grants Program, and William Valdez, Senior Technical Advisor, Data Impact Program, with Pamela Duncan, a data journalist from The Guardian, discussed the value of CRVS data and government responsibility for registering vital events. Attended by journalists and development specialists, the session highlighted specific countries that leveraged CRVS data both to measure progress against development goals and to develop robust health policies. The session also gave attendees an opportunity to explore a mortality data set, pulling insights to create compelling narratives for the media and for advocacy.

Estimating COVID-19 cases and deaths was a major challenge to public health systems, which required innovative solutions. At the World Health Organization’s Pandemic Hub panel, “Transformative Innovations for Public Health Surveillance and Intelligence,” William Valdez presented about how Colombia and Peru identified excess COVID-19 deaths by using routinely collected data sources, such as mortality registries, in the early days of the pandemic. He also highlighted the use of Vital Strategies’ Excess Mortality Calculator, a simple Excel-based tool, in estimating COVID deaths across multiple countries, leading to more evidence-based decision-making.

The use of data to promote social change was a consistent theme throughout the conference. Data justice, ownership, and equity in data governance, were actively debated issues. Many participants, for example, advocated for data generated and owned by citizens, while others promoted the crucial role of government as data stewards, and some called for a middle ground. There were animated discussions about the need to transition from siloed national statistics systems toward more integrated, holistic data systems, which would improve analyses and increase efficiencies. While some sessions were devoted to artificial intelligence and innovations in data capture and use, others focused on the value of strengthening traditional data systems, including CRVS, since these systems are critical to counting everyone and unlocking each person’s access to services, rights, and protections.