Flawed COVID Reporting

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Centre must develop a unified framework for collection of transparent COVID data

A study by researchers of Stanford University has noted serious gaps in reporting COVID-19 cases in India. The study has revealed that while Karnataka has done good work in COVID-19 data reporting and scored 0.61 points on a scale of 1 of the COVID-19 Data Reporting Score, the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh with zero score were among the worst performers in the country in dissemination of data. Goa is 10th worst performer with a score of 0.21 among the 29 states that were under included in the study. It is surprising to note that despite a very good health and administrative set-up and a smaller area and population, Goa’s performance has been among the worst. It is a sad reflection on the state authorities, as it suggests that the dissemination of information regarding COVID-19 is not proper and satisfactory.

The study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, has been published in the preprint repository ‘medRxiv’. The assessment of the country’s response on reporting the COVID-19 cases was done at national, state and individual levels during two-week study from May 19 to June 1. The study captured four key aspects of public health data reporting – availability, accessibility, granularity and privacy. The researchers found that there was a lack of a unified framework for reporting COVID-19 data at the state and national level. This called for the need for a central agency to monitor or audit the quality of data reporting done by the states, they said. Without a unified framework it would be difficult to aggregate the data collected from the different states, gain insights from them, and coordinate an effective nationwide response to the pandemic. This also reflects the inadequacy in coordination or sharing of resources among the states in India. Transparent and accessible reporting of COVID-19 data was critical for public health efforts in tackling the pandemic.

As regards Goa, the study found that the state’s reporting did not offer details about sex, age, co-morbidities and travel history of the reported COVID-19 cases. Besides, at the state level questions have been raised over the figures released by the health authorities on a daily basis. There have been cases of mismatch in the released figures over the last few weeks almost daily. Without a rational, truthful and transparent flow of data it cannot be possible for policy makers and the scientific community to frame a robust response to counter the pandemic. If the state does not know the extent, nature and characteristics of the problem before it, or allows entry and dissemination of wrong or incomplete data, how can we expect its fight against the pandemic to be efficacious? It is not only Goa that is at fault. Punjab compromised the privacy of individuals under quarantine by releasing their personally identifiable information on the official websites, according to the study. The central authorities need to take corrective steps sooner than later and ensure that there was a coordinated data building and combat against the coronavirus.

It is sad to think that though it has been more than seven months since the first COVID-19 case surfaced in the country, the central and state authorities have not built robust, transparent and scientific systems for a coordinated data collection and dissemination and strategies to fight the pandemic. The number of coronavirus positive cases has been rising alarmingly in Goa and other states over the past few weeks. With the worst of the pandemic projected yet to come, there is a need for total coordination among all the state and central authorities to evolve an effective strategy to collect and share information and develop and implement strategies to keep the virus at bay. The strategies adopted have not worked efficiently so far. As the virus has brought health and economic miseries to the people all over the country it would have a devastating effect on them if it is not checked soonest. Both the central government and the Goa government have been making efforts to alleviate the fears among people by daily releasing figures of patients cured. That is good in itself, but not sufficient to remove the fears of the people totally, unless they succeed in reversing the spike in cases.