Planning and evaluation of effective, evidence based policies to prevent and control Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) need to be informed by comprehensive, timely and reliable information on prevalence and trends of NCD risk factors. Traditionally, data on NCD risk factors are obtained through population surveys. Due to financial and other limitations, those traditional risk factor surveys are often not conducted or are conducted irregularly, which results in the situations where data on risk factors for NCDs is not known with the needed level of detail, precision and timeliness for effective policy making and evaluation. Currently, the situation regarding availability of NCD risk factors information cannot be described as satisfactory, as less than one fifth of countries in the WHO European Region fully fulfill the achievement criteria for Progress Monitor indicator 3 on risk factor surveys, implying completion of a comprehensive health examination survey in the last five years.
In recent years, the expanding use of information and communication technologies (ICT) has created immense amounts of data that are routinely collected for different purposes. Those data are characterized by large amounts of data, often generated at high velocity and by heterogeneous processes. Frequent, those data are called Big Data. Data sources can be as various as texts, images and audio and video recordings from social media, retail, mobile phone usage, data on movements collected with accelerometers and devices with GPS functionality, including phones, and many more.
Such rich data sources are increasingly being used for a large number of applications, including in the area of health and in particularly NCD surveillance. Attempts to use those data are frequently driven by data availability and emerging capabilities to collect and analyze data. Simultaneously, this calls for careful consideration of ethical issues in order to protect privacy.