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Leading global health research partnership highlights ‘concerning’ lack of COVID-19 data amid vaccine rollout

Health

Release Date: December 17, 2020
Media Contact: Ketaki Nagaraju, Communications Coordinator, ICRW Asia

As much of the world awaits the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, a leading global health research partnership has reported that national governments globally are either not publishing or stopping publishing crucial data which could inform decisions about vaccine rollout. 

Despite robust evidence that shows marked differences in rates of COVID-19 testing, hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths between men and women, the partnership behind the Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Project finds only half of the world’s countries are currently reporting any data across these indicators broken down by sex — and some that had been doing so have stopped or are doing so too inconsistently to monitor trends. This trend continues in South-East Asia & Eastern Mediterranean countries; out of those 11 countries, less than half reported sex-disaggregated data in the last month.

The partnership between three research organisations — Europe-based Global Health 50/50, the African Population and Health Research Center, and the International Center for Research on Women — is building the world’s largest database of sex-disaggregated data on COVID-19. Findings from Asia (South-East Asia & Eastern Mediterranean) are highlighted in the Regional Report published today.

The failure to prioritise sex-disaggregated data has sparked concern among research and health experts that a lack of data will adversely impact pandemic planning, recovery and vaccination programmes.

Global Health 50/50 co-founder and Professor of Global Public Health at University College London Sarah Hawkes said: “While data exists for other key characteristics such as age and pre-existing conditions, the availability of information that shows how men and women are affected by COVID-19 is lacking. Without this, health authorities will not have the complete information needed to ensure that potential vaccination programmes are effectively reaching all parts of the population equally.”

Initial research shows that the pandemic impacts women and men differently. The available data from the project’s Sex-Disaggregated Data Tracker shows that while women and men account for a similar proportion of COVID-19 cases globally, there are roughly 14 deaths in men for every 10 deaths in women. 

With initial data strongly suggesting COVID-19 impacts sexes differently, countries should ensure reliable reporting of data that track numbers of men and women affected by the pandemic. Global Health 50/50 argues that it is impossible to make evidence-informed decisions about whether a future vaccination programme will reach all sections of the population fairly. 

The project currently tracks sex-disaggregated data on testing, confirmed cases, hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths, but plans to expand its scope to tracking data on COVID-19 vaccinations programmes by sex. Global Health 50/50 is calling for countries to ensure that sex-disaggregated data is central to their planning and monitoring as the world turns its attention to ramping up ambitious vaccine rollouts. 

Ravi Verma, Regional Director, ICRW Asia, said: “The data tracker has clearly demonstrated how gender blind the COVID-19 response strategy is world over. Only 50 percent of countries present some data disaggregated by sex. Fragmented, inconsistent and in most cases no data is likely to give rise to misgivings and generate wrong hypotheses. This certainly does not help advance evidence-based response strategies. Our effort from the regional reports is to deepen this exercise and highlight the need for data at the sub-national levels.” 

The Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Project Regional Report published today shows concerning findings among the 186 countries monitored by the partnership:

  • At the global level, while 72 percent of the 186 countries reported sex-disaggregated data at some point during the pandemic, just half (51 percent) reported any COVID-19 data by sex during Oct-Nov. In the Asia (South-East Asia & Eastern Mediterranean) region during the last reporting period, less than half of the countries reported sex-disaggregated data on both cases and deaths by sex.  
  • At the time of this report, the tracker captured 44,26,567 cases by sex from 11 countries in the Asia (South-East Asia & Eastern Mediterranean) region, out of these cases 64 percent are men and remaining 36 percent are women. Similarly, 35,797 deaths have been reported with higher deaths among men (65 percent) than women (35 percent). 
  • Though India and Pakistan presumably have the most absolute number of cases and deaths within the region, they are contributing outdated data to these calculations. On removing the data of these two countries, the distribution of cases among men and women changes to 61 percent and 39 percent and distribution of death changes to 64 percent  and 36 percent.
  • None of the countries in this region is reporting sex-disaggregated data across all the key indicators to give a comprehensive picture of testing, confirmed cases, deaths, hospitalization, ICU admissions and cases among healthcare workers.
  • Lack of sex-disaggregated data on the key indicators increases difficulty for researchers to calculate and compare men and women’s case or infection fatality rates.
  • Sub-national data: In addition to national level data, some countries are also reporting sex-disaggregated data at sub-national level, but on limited indicators.
  • In India, only one state is releasing data on the number of cases and deaths, while three states are releasing data only on the number of cases.
  • Nepal is reporting data on the number of cases for all provinces.
  • Afghanistan releases data only on hospitalization for all provinces.

Read the full Asia (South-East Asia & Eastern Mediterranean) Regional Report here: https://globalhealth5050.org/wp-content/uploads/Asia-Tracker-Update-November-2020.pdf

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About the sex disaggregated data tracker:

The tracker monitors differences in COVID-19 infection, illness and death among women and men. Please see the link below to view the data for 183 countries.

https://globalhealth5050.org/covid19/sex-disaggregated-data-tracker/

About Global Health 50/50:

Global Health 50/50, housed at University College London, is an independent research and advocacy initiative that promotes far-reaching transparency, action and accountability to advance gender equality and health equity. Established in 2017, it brings together leading feminists including doctors, academics, journalists, politicians and policy experts from all corners of the world.

https://globalhealth5050.org/covid19/

About The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW):

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is a global research institute with offices located in Washington, D.C.; New Delhi, India; Nairobi, Kenya; and Kampala, Uganda. Our research evidence identifies women’s contributions as well as the obstacles that prevent them from being economically strong and able to fully participate in society. ICRW translates these insights into a path of action that honors women’s human rights, ensures gender equality, and creates the conditions in which all women can thrive.

https://www.icrw.org/

About The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC):

The African Population and Health Research Center is the continent’s premier research institution and think tank, generating evidence to drive policy action to improve the health and wellbeing of African people. Our mission is to generate evidence, strengthen research capacity and engage policy to inform action on population health and wellbeing.

https://aphrc.org/

For more information, or to arrange interviews, contact: Ketaki Nagaraju, Communications Coordinator, ICRW Asia at knagaraju@icrw.org.

 

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