Global COVID-19 Data Gap Grows As Countries Stop Reporting to WHO
WHO's New Leadership Team
The World Health Organisation is losing track of the evolution of COVID-19 as governments lose interest in reporting data about the virus.

Fewer than 20 countries worldwide still report COVID-19 hospitalization and ICU data to the World Health Organization (WHO), leaving the UN health body blind to the impact and evolution of the virus in most of the world, agency leaders said Friday.

The decline in data reporting is a major setback for the WHO’s efforts to track the pandemic. Without reliable data, the WHO cannot accurately assess the burden of disease, identify new variants, or target its resources where they are most needed.

“We don’t have good visibility of the impact of COVID-19 around the world,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, who leads the WHO’s COVID-19 task force. “It is really important that surveillance continues, and this is on the shoulders of governments right now.”

Out of the 243 countries and territories party to the WHO, the UN health body has data on cases for just 103 of those. Only 19 countries and territories continue to report hospitalization data, while just 17 report data on cases that end in the ICU. The number of countries reporting COVID-19 deaths has fallen to 54.

“While we are certainly not in the same situation that we were in a year ago or two years ago, SARS-Cov-2 circulates in all countries right now,” said Van Kerkhove. “It is still causing a large number of infections, hospitalizations, admissions to the ICU and deaths.”

The current set of dominant COVID-19 variants can still cause the “full spectrum” of disease, from asymptomatic infections to severe disease and death, Kerkhove said.

The continued circulation of the virus also puts individuals at risk of joining the millions of people around the world suffering from the effects of long COVID. Research into the prevalence of long COVID worldwide estimates the number of people affected as high as 65 million — likely a vast underestimate.

“COVID remains a global health threat, and data available to WHO continues to decline,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing on Friday. “We continue to call on all countries to strengthen surveillance, sequencing and reporting so we can assess the risk of new variants.”

Image Credits: Guilhem Vellut.

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