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The data gap

A university-based pandemic monitor rued the huge gap in the COVID-19 data being provided by government that is becoming too hard to ignore, fearing it could result in misplaced policies and misinterpretation of the severity of the situation.

Data analytics from the University of the Philippines Pandemic Response Team (PRT) looked into the gap and delays between laboratory test results and the data published by the Department of Health, trying to explain the disconnect medical doctors on the ground are experiencing from the data being reported to the nation during the pandemic.

Health advocate Dr. Gene Nisperos of Community Medicine Development Foundation said this gap could be a reason “we are losing the pandemic fight. We’ve fallen behind the enemy.” He adds that the slow validation process by the DOH has resulted in a huge data backlog from 2020.

Testing laboratories generally submit COVID-19 positive results to local governments and to the DOH, which the latter in turn sorts and validates to remove duplicates or correct patient’s information before it releases the data to the public. If the DOH cannot validate all the submitted positive results for a particular day, the balance is carried over the next day until the numbers eventually accumulate and become unmanageable.

Additionally, mathematician Dr. Jomar Rabajante of the UP PRT said the delay in the DOH reporting of deaths greatly impacts the public’s notion of the pandemic’s severity.

The group gave examples of the differences in laboratory data and DOH reporting, citing the period of April 3, 2020 to September 3, 2021 where laboratory cumulative data recorded 2,207,341 positive cases but the DOH data reported only 2,040,427, or a difference of 166,914.

The gap also existed in the reporting of deaths. UP PRT cited the DOH initially reporting 9,067 COVID deaths as of December 25, 2020 but their review of the data in March showed an actual count of 11,391 deaths.

To be fair to the DOH, Dr. Rabajante said the DOH published all information in its “data drop” which independent monitors also use as bases for their projections but this significant gap and delay makes it difficult for the public to know the real score as far as the status of the pandemic in the country is concerned.
The DOH that has been spending more time focused on public relations rather than public health needs to start at the basics and be more upfront with its data. Data gaps are excusable at the beginning but after 18 months, continuing inaccuracies and delays cannot be tolerated as it could be the reason why our country has not yet controlled COVID-19 ever since the pandemic was declared.

If the DOH pandemic response is going to improve, the poor quality of its data reporting should be a good place to start.*

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