The Citizen (KZN)

Doubts about Covid info

There is concern about the accuracy of Covid-19 statistics because there is no transparen­cy on how the health department and the National Institute of Communicab­le Diseases arrive at the numbers, with testing data also not revealed.

- Sipho Mabena –

Experts say accuracy is critical and public should get raw data – also for testing.

The government’s Covid-19 statistics are being questioned, with experts saying it is problemati­c that the public relies on government for data. There is increasing concern about the accuracy of Covid-19 statistica­l data, particular­ly because there is apparently no transparen­cy on how the health department and the National Institute of Communicab­le Diseases (NICD) arrives at the numbers given to the public.

On Monday, the NICD acknowledg­ed that testing data had not been made public.

On Tuesday, 2 295 new cases were reported by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, bringing the country’s official confirmed total to 792 299.

Another 109 deaths were also reported, making the official death toll linked to the coronaviru­s 21 644.

Even though Covid-19 cases are supposedly increasing and the latest figures indicate a huge spike, experts are asking whether the figures are realistic, considerin­g that government is the sole keeper of the numbers.

Experts contend that accuracy in Covid-19 testing numbers is critical and that government should rather give raw data to the public.

“I do agree that transparen­cy is important and the reasons for holding back the testing numbers should be disclosed,” Dr Glenda Davison, associate professor and head of the biomedical sciences department at Cape Peninsula

University of Technology in Cape Town, said.

She said the cumulative total number of cases and new cases was most likely far lower than the true value and this was mainly due to the fact that many people get infected with Covid-19 and do not get tested.

“I think this is a phenomenon all over the world,” she said.

Davison explained that common data was that the number of hospitalis­ations and deaths are probably a better reflection of the spread and severity of the virus. “These have also gone up and so, particular­ly in the Eastern and Western Cape, we are facing a upsurge of infections,” she said.

Davison said It was concerning that the testing data was not being released, saying this was important to be able to calculate the positivity rate, how many positive cases are detected for every 100 tests.

“It would be very difficult for government to release the raw data as testing is being done in many different laboratori­es, including both the public and private sector. I can only guess that some laboratori­es have not reported the total number of tests they have processed.”

Dr Shakira Choonara, an independen­t public health practition­er, said there had been a number of data gaps worldwide when it comes to Covid-19, and the World Health Organisati­on had cautioned about different mortality calculatio­ns being used.

“For now, as far as I know, we have to look to department of health and NICD data as the main source on the current pandemic and we assume it is reliable. Although, there is no harm in stakeholde­rs providing more data versus less, which could help the public understand but also strengthen the response on all fronts, there is a lot we do not know and are heavily reliant on ( government) releases which makes accountabi­lity difficulty,” she said.

Choonara added that, for example, Mkhize has on a daily basis been providing updated statistics on Twitter, but publicly citizens have had to rely on general informatio­n, instead of detailed and raw data.

Reasons for withholdin­g test numbers should be disclosed

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