Good Idea: Hot data

The Millennium Development Goals have always had a looming menace, even when the deadline was comfortably far away. But as it draws ever closer, the eight goals lurk in the shadows like a malevolent bogeyman, haunting the 1.4 billion people in extreme poverty the most.

With an eye on the three health-related MDGs - reducing child mortality, improving health during pregnancy and combating diseases such as HIV and malaria - a report in the Lancet by Michael Reich and Keizo Takemi explains that while manpower and money are vital, there is a third resource that is easier to overlook: data.

Data may not be the most obvious tool for tackling disease. Yet without it, Reich and Takemi point out, it is impossible to use money or medical staff properly. In recent years, funding has often been disease-specific, with some great results, but resources also fall through the cracks.

Collecting data, as well as giving treatment, is a more holistic approach.

Each year, a third of the world's 128 million births and two-thirds of its 57 million deaths are not registered. As a result, population projections and estimates of the effects of diseases are uncertain.

In the wake of the financial crisis, cuts to development funding are looking closer than the MDG deadline. With vast and complex problems, and limited time, a clearer picture would surely help.