Problems with Health Ministry’s data system undermine struggle against Covid-19

Problems with Health Ministry’s data system undermine struggle against Covid-19
Photo: Redkey USB/Shutterstock

States and cities across Brazil are encountering problems in accounting for the number of cases throughout the month of July. Anyone who has been paying attention to the official Covid-19 numbers in Brazil will be familiar with the instability and random variation in the numbers on the Health Ministry’s official platforms.

In recent weeks, six states saw random explosions in the numbers of new cases and deaths, reportedly because the Health Ministry’s data collection system was going through a phase of “normalization.” The result of all of this is random and unexplainable variations in the official numbers that no statistical model can account for. These fluctuations in the official numbers undermine all state analyses of the pandemic in Brazil.

In the city of São Paulo, for instance, between July 15 and 21, fewer than 700 new cases were recorded daily, giving the impression that the curve had been tamed. However, on July 22, 18,600 new cases were registered. In the days that followed, the number of new cases varied between 0 and 7,000. This was not due to a sudden explosion in cases, but was caused by problems with the Health Ministry’s system. If the platform for recording case and death numbers is prone to such irregularities, it makes it almost impossible for analysts to work out whether the infection curve has risen, plateaued, or declined. 

To make matters worse, states such as Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Alagoas, Bahia, and Piauí are all facing the same problems with the Health Ministry’s platform. The ministry, which still lacks a full-time Health Minister, redesigned its portal in order to conceal key data in June. As The Brazilian Report has covered, the country’s fight against the pandemic has faced problems from the beginning with the Health Ministry’s data collection systems. The question is whether this is deliberate, sheer incompetence, or a combination of both.

Support this coverage →Support this coverage →