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Tracking changes in reporting of epidemiological data during the COVID-19 pandemic in Southeast Asia: an observational study during the first wave

By Arianna Maever L. Amit, Veincent Christian F Pepito, Bernardo Gutierrez, Thomas Rawson

Posted 27 Oct 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.23.20217570

BackgroundWhen a new pathogen emerges, consistent case reporting is critical for public health surveillance. Tracking cases geographically and over time is key for understanding the spread of an infectious disease and how to effectively design interventions to contain and mitigate an epidemic. In this paper we describe the reporting systems on COVID-19 in Southeast Asia during the first wave in 2020, and highlight the impact of specific reporting methods. MethodsWe reviewed key epidemiological variables from various sources including a regionally comprehensive dataset, national trackers, dashboards, and case bulletins for 11 countries during the first wave of the epidemic in Southeast Asia. We recorded timelines of shifts in epidemiological reporting systems. We further described the differences in how epidemiological data are reported across countries and timepoints, and the accessibility of epidemiological data. FindingsOur findings suggest that countries in Southeast Asia generally reported precise and detailed epidemiological data during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, changes in reporting were frequent and varied across data and countries. Changes in reporting rarely occurred for demographic data such as age and sex, while reporting shifts for geographic and temporal data were frequent. We also found that most countries provided COVID-19 individual-level data daily using HTML and PDF, necessitating scraping and extraction before data could be used in analyses. InterpretationCountries have different reporting systems and different capacities for maintaining consistent reporting of epidemiological data. As the pandemic progresses, governments may also change their priorities in data sharing. Our study thus highlights the importance of more nuanced analyses of epidemiological data of COVID-19 within and across countries because of the frequent shifts in reporting. Further, most countries provide data on a daily basis but not always in a readily usable format. As governments continue to respond to the impacts of COVID-19 on health and the economy, data sharing also needs to be prioritised given its foundational role in policymaking, and the implementation and evaluation of interventions. FundingThe work was supported through an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) (https://epsrc.ukri.org/) Systems Biology studentship award (EP/G03706X/1) to TR. This project was also supported in part by the Oxford Martin School. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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