Authors: Dandara de Oliveira Ramos (Epidemiologist, Adjunct Professor at the Collective Health Institute of UFBA, Cidacs-Fiocruz Bahia) and Nassor de Oliveira Ramos (Political Scientist, Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro / UNIRIO)
In the midst of the greatest health challenge of the century, humanity has been watching, almost in real time, the evolution of the numbers of cases and deaths, as well as the consequent changes imposed in its daily routines. This entire cycle of information, which begins with testing, goes through hospitalizations, recovered cases and lost lives, is documented and, in the best scenarios, used to support policies and make decisions. Basically, data is at the center of our intelligence about the pandemic and our ability to act on it.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been producing a massive amount of data. As countries struggle to build realistic scenarios and visualize the real scale of the problem, the scientific community around the world does its part by collecting and systematizing information on social distance based on the geolocation of cell phones and traffic monitoring, as well as undertaking immense modeling efforts to predict the epidemic burden and health service needs  . Given the deep uncertainties we face, science through these data has been providing tangible facts even in the face of many unknowns.
There is no doubt that data are essential tools in preparing responses, allocating resources and assessing the effectiveness of interventions, such as social distance and the use of masks, for example. However, incomplete, incorrect or, at worst, unavailable data , make the pandemic scenario even more difficult. Without data, or with bad data, we run the risk of ignoring real risks, creating false waves of panic (or security), ignoring serious socioeconomic realities and neglecting vulnerable subpopulations and groups. In the midst of the current crisis, poor data management has serious consequences for millions of lives.
Having said that, there is no doubt that the availability of data in an open and transparent way is fundamental for facing the pandemic . However, barriers imposed by political decisions have caused several limitations to health knowledge and action in Brazil and worldwide.
A world reference in the field of public health, John Hopkins University, in the United States, created a portal for monitoring the transparency of data on the epidemic in the country and reports that, to date, only four of the 50 US states report their testing data with racial identification of individuals tested for Covid-19. In the death certificates, in turn, seven states do not disclose the race of the deceased  .
In Brazil, the situation is even more serious. Systematic national data on testing are non-existent and all the coverage that has been given about the diagnosis of COVID in the country is restricted to the journalistic sphere  . Furthermore, among the records of deaths due to severe acute respiratory syndrome – SRAG (including deaths by Covid-19 until 06/04/2020) released by the Ministry of Health, in the database of notifications made by public and private health units, 36 % of deaths had the race / color field “Ignored” or blank. Similar percentages of lack of information are also found in the data on hospitalizations and recovered patients  .
The low quality of these data is of particular importance for public health. We know that the black Brazilian population, for example, is in a situation of health vulnerability because it has a higher prevalence of risk factors for death by Covid-19, such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes  . In addition to being the vast majority among informal workers and the homeless, subgroups that face severe limitations to comply with preventive measures such as social isolation and the use of masks [6,7] . Without qualified data on the impact of COVID on this population, we run the risk of intensifying these racial inequalities in health.