Project Objectives

Researchers have made tremendous strides in uncovering some of the strong correlations between socio-economic conditions and health outcomes in low-income countries. However, there is increasing recognition of the need for longitudinal or life history data to better understand the dynamic and long-term interactive relationships between socio-economic conditions and health over the life course. The need for this type of research in developing countries, which bear a disproportionate share of poor health outcomes and disease, ranging from malnutrition, to malaria, and most recently HIV/AIDS, is especially pressing.

The good new is that courageous and determined teams of researchers have begun to collect vital longitudinal and life history data in some places in the developing world. Projects such as the Malawi Diffusion and Ideational Change Project (MDICP) and the Cape Area Panel Study (CAPS) have collected multiple rounds of panel data on both socio-economic conditions as well as health risks. Other massive longitudinal data collection efforts are underway at the 37 (Health and) Demographic Surveillance Sites ((H)DSS). Some of these sites have been operational for over a decade and collect health and demographic information up to four times a year.

However, both collecting and analyzing longitudinal and life history data from developing countries is not easy. Research teams generally work in isolation from each other and often “reinvent the wheel” with each new survey. The data are often so complex (and sometimes messy) that few members outside the team use them. Making these data available with sufficient documentation, cleaning, coding, and linkages is time-consuming and expensive—and rarely earmarked in the original budgets. There is also— we must admit — probably greater reluctance to make these types of data publicly available because they generate greater concern about the privacy and confidentiality of respondents, and they are so much more difficult to collect!

Thus, although the sheer amount of such data is almost staggering, access to and use of these data by health researchers, health care providers, development specialists, government agencies, policy makers, university professors, and graduate students is comparatively limited. As a result, these data are under-utilized and many of the key (and potentially life saving) dynamic and causal links between social, economic and cultural factors and health outcomes continue to go undiscovered.


Our primary goal is to help make these data more accessible and user-friendly by offering—free of charge—to assist with documenting, cleaning, coding, harmonizing, and posting longitudinal and life history data on health in developing countries. As a secondary objective, we seek to provide a forum where scholars, researchers, and practitioners can share ideas and experiences with both collecting such data as well as analyzing them. We are especially keen to not only promote the use of standard longitudinal data analyses methods such as fixed and random effects, survival analysis, and growth curves, but also to explore new methods such as sequence analysis. Our goal is to foster greater research among contributors and other researchers, by enhancing data quality and disseminating these exceptional data and promoting the use of appropriate research tools.


The “Life Histories, Health, and HIV/AIDS” data center was established with funds from the Canadian Fund for Innovation (CFI). It is directed by Shelley Clark, Associate Professor of Sociology at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Youth, Gender and Global Health.

All services are free, participation is voluntary, and participants retain full ownership of and control over their data. Although data relevant to adolescent transitions and HIV risks in sub-Saharan Africa are given priority, data focused on other critical health issues in developing countries, are also welcome.

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