A new study by HealthPros (a training network for healthcare professionals) and WHO/Europe shows that countries faced challenges in how information about COVID-19 was presented and disseminated. As visual and dynamic displays of key data – the COVID-19 dashboards – were rapidly developed in the first months of the pandemic, countries faced issues related to the need for simplicity, the use of open data, transparency and trust.
The new publication notes that the COVID-19 charts, developed early in the pandemic, showed how much can be achieved with limited resources and a high degree of urgency. They also stressed the importance of tracking the spread of “potentially harmful disinformation.” The publication is based on in-depth interviews with national COVID-19 panel teams in the 33 countries surveyed.
Urgency, intensive workload, limited human resources, data and privacy limitations, and public scrutiny were all issues faced during the development of the panels in early 2020. “Initially, national health information systems tried to to provide accurate and timely data to the COVID-19 panels – a key challenge also reported by other observers,” the study states. As one expert recalls: “We were flying the plane while we were building it.”
The experiences of COVID-19 show the need for smart investments
The dashboard has been used by many jurisdictions to show data such as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths and geographic locations in an automatically updated format.
“What we saw during the early stages of the pandemic was a high level of political commitment, coupled with professionalism and support from the private sector to find ways to understand and track this new disease,” explained Dr David Novillo-Ortiz. . Regional Advisor for Data and Digital Health at WHO/Europe.
Addressing existing gaps
Although the experience of COVID-19 has highlighted successful collaboration at the international level – such as that between the WHO, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and Eurostat – the study points to a gap in collaboration between panel countries control and limit cross-country data exchanges.
The study team, based at the University Medical Centers of Amsterdam, included researchers from HealthPros and health data experts from WHO/Europe. He conducted interviews with members of the panel teams in 11 languages, covering 31 of the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region and several other countries. He used elaborative coding and thematic analysis, as well as a validation workshop, to reach his conclusions.
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