C-Sections – guess which country outperforms the others!

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I thought caesarean sections were a Western World phenomena. The latest health statistics report published by the World Health Organisation (Download) proved me wrong. In fact, it is Brazil, Cyprus and Iran where roughly every second baby is delivered by a c-section. Check out the chart below.

Distrust the Data! As some colleagues @ddjnrw and me noticed, the data is definitely flawed. Hardly imaginable that there are no c-sections in Great Britain, right? Unfortunately the footnotes in the report are not very helpful.

Misled data journalism has been discussed widely recently. You can find a great overview on the flaws you could possibly commit here.

So I think I need to make clear that what you see here is more of a research report, a first hint – and definitely not a finished piece of journalism.

Way too many and way too few c-sections worldwide

The range goes from zero in South Sudan to 54 percent in Brazil. The WHO considers every rate that is not between 10 and 15 percent as either overuse or underuse.

„We estimated that in 2008, 3.18 million additional CS were needed and 6.20 million unnecessary sections were performed.“

– from World Health Report (2010) Background Paper, No 30

All in all 15.8 million c-sections were performed in 2008, estimates the WHO. The background paper cited above collected C-section rates from 137 of the 195 member states which make up to 95 percent of all births worldwide.

What’s the situation today?

The worldwide c-section rate does not clearly differ from region to region, as show the numbers from the WHO statistics.  Check out the map below.

Actually, the result put me somewhat at a loss. And it raises a lot of questions I would like to explore.

Some of them are more of a technical approach. Is underuse or overuse an income related problem? How many unnecessary c-sections are performed nowadays? Maybe a look at panel-data would help.

But there are also journalistic questions. What does that mean for mothers in countries with a lot of unnecessary c-sections like Brazil? And what about those women who can’t have access to c-sections? And, of course, what does that cost?

Check out the databases I released (w/ Tabula) and roughly cleaned and feel free to use them! You can download the „Health Service Coverage“ and the „Socioeconomic Data“ spreadsheet. Feel free to join the discussion on health data and journalism.


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