Only the right data system can help India better fight Covid-19
India is witnessing a second wave of Covid-19 for which neither the country nor the government was prepared. There are reports of underreporting of the number of Covid-19 cases and resulting mortality by state governments, hospitals running out of beds, and oxygen and RT-PCR testing suspended in several. private and government facilities as they have huge backlogs and not enough staff or material to carry them out. One of the many reasons and certainly one of the most important behind this chaos and crisis is the failure to build a proper data system that is transparent, evolves with developments and is flexible enough to be molded. according to different requirements of different states.
This pandemic has turned out to be the most unpredictable. Research and understanding of the infection and its trajectory is still evolving across the world. With the spread of variants, there have been and still are cases that have tested negative in the RT-PCR test to be clinically diagnosed as positive after a CT scan or chest x-ray. But since a clinical diagnosis of this infection has not yet been defined, these cases are not recorded in government data or official bulletins. These cases, however, occupy Covid beds in hospitals, resulting in a clear disconnect between data released by the government and actual numbers in hospitals.
Deaths in many states are still counted based on reports from hospitals. This suggests that deaths of patients in home quarantine or waiting for a bed outside a hospital, with or without a Covid-19 test report, are never included in official statistics. So, while these bodies are cremated or buried according to the Covid-19 protocol, their exclusion from the official published figures has made headlines.
One approach to be taken by every state government is to follow a patient from a positive test, both in the laboratory and in the clinic, to the outcome of infection. If the patient’s status is recorded every day since diagnosis (11-17 days), the official statistics would be more accurate and the system transparent. It is also the only way for the government to assess and understand the seriousness of the situation and to use this data to make realistic projections of cases. This analysis can then be used for planning and preparing the infrastructure, equipment and manpower required in the following weeks.
Unless a data system is designed, built and maintained to capture reality and make realistic projections for the weeks and months to come, preparations in terms of infrastructure, supplies, equipment, manpower – drug work and capacity will always be reactionary and therefore fall short of the demands of the current situation.
Neither the pattern of spread nor the behavior of the virus has remained the same as it was last year when the pandemic began. The system designed to objectively capture this development must adapt to these changes. Different states are witnessing different patterns of this spread. Therefore, containment strategies and protocols will also vary. The data system should be flexible enough for states to add details, introduce checks and create modules. This same system should be able to capture and track the implementation of immunization efforts.
It is only through a comprehensive and scalable design of the data system that accurate numbers can be shared with people and the media, for internal calculations and for all preparatory purposes. Data entry, process, system and capabilities can no longer come second on the priority list.
Governments and people must realize that it is only through transparent, open, accessible and accurate data systems that accountability and accountability can be established for preventive and timely action. It is also the only way left to restore confidence and hope in government in the future.
Tulika Avni Sinha is a development professional working in Covid management with the government of Punjab
Opinions expressed are personal