Vice-President of IMANI, Bright Simons
Vice-President of IMANI, Bright Simons has urged the government to align data gathered between true cases and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in order to make policies that would have significant effect and more reflective of the supporting data.
In IMANI's Periodic Briefing titled "Ghana's COVID-19 Fight- Data Alignment is the magic-word", he asked the government to align the private picture of the epidemic with the public picture it has painted over time to make changes to its manner of policies being made.
According to him, a roughly stable relationship between confirmed cases and true cases was the only way one can use the official count of confirmed cases for any kind of policy management.
“These two alignments would then enable the Government to make forward-looking policy based on whether previous policies are having a statistically significant effect or not. Until those alignments are in place, a policy is merely provisional,” the write-up indicated.
He argues that in every epidemic outbreak, the unknown conditions of some infected persons make the official health system unable to record such cases hence, confirmed cases always lag and underrepresent true cases.
“In addition to early detection, effective tracing and testing also enable responders to use the number of confirmed cases to project/predict the pattern of true cases. In every epidemic, there are always many people with the disease whose condition is not known and has therefore not been recorded by the official health system. Hence, confirmed cases always lag and underrepresent true cases. What is important is for the confirmed cases to track the true situation on the ground reasonably faithfully. For that to happen though, confirmed cases must constitute a representative sample of true cases,” he explained.
“The reason why one needs a roughly stable relationship between confirmed cases and true cases is because that is the only way one can use the official count of confirmed cases for any kind of policy management,” he said.
Mr. Simons believes that the number of tests must cover a very large proportion of the overall population, perhaps in the millions for the confirmed counts to be representative of the true number of cases recorded.
He added that considering the logistical challenges in pooling samples, running tests, batching results, and the sequence of steps results go through before reaching the public, the actual data points which are announced on any particular day comes from the preceding days spanning a two- or even three- week period.
This, he said makes the situation not look realtime but rather creates a lagging picture.
“Thus, one is not looking at some kind of realtime dashboard of a consistently evolving situation. One is, in fact, looking at a mixed reality, composed of different snapshots across time. A lagging, composite, picture; not a sequential reel.”
It is thus meaningless to say that infections are growing, slowing, growing faster or slowing sluggishly, etc by simply relying on these global numbers. The current structure of data collection and delivery does not really allow a mere observer to say that” he indicated.
How can these alignments be achieved?
According to Bright Simons, improved logistics for sampling and increased capacity is one of the ways to align the public and official trend pictures. This he said the Government is already working on with a clear strategy.
The media, he said, also needs to better understand the statistical aspects of the pandemic so that they can nudge the government towards delivering and communicating more effectively on the various alignments discussed.
To him, the Government’s assessments of whether the country is doing well or not must be done sufficiently transparent and logically easy to follow so that the roadmap to success is not hijacked by distrust, morbid partisanship and confusion.
Mr. Simons proffers that the government should make clear to the larger part of the population, the steps being taken to actively kick start the resumption of economic activities.
In connection with this second angle on alignment, he explained that there are gaps in the process design to enhance the contact tracing since the entire enhanced tracing regime has been based on direct tracing of returnees and attempts to identify and test their direct contacts.
He added that the challenge began when the government designed the contact tracing around the 1030 international arrivals placed under mandatory quarantine.
The Government must fix the gap in the contact tracing by making attempts to validate assumptions about non-hotspot areas for the virus.
There must be a uniform alignment of case count with a true level of prevalence and serious modelling of the spatial distribution of the COVID-19 burden in Ghana presently using historical data of where people from overseas usually disperse among the population.
Conduct mass randomized testing to track infection dynamics along certain key radial pathways.