A part of an internal report compiled by the Health and Family Welfare (HFW) Department in Tamil Nadu to present to officials at the highest level has shown data that is different from the COVID-19 data publicly reported by the State in its bulletins every day.
The report available with The Hindu had data till September 7. Compared with the media bulletin released for the same day, this data showed a difference of 26,224 additional COVID-19 cases admitted till then to different types of institutions (including home quarantine), and 414 more in the total deaths.
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The deviation was in one page, which was the part of the report capturing the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals, COVID Health Centres (CHCs), COVID Care Centres (CCCs), and those in home isolation. This category-wise data is not part of the States daily media bulletin. It instead gives the total number of people under treatment in all different facilities combined, which is always in sync with the total number of active cases given in the bulletin. As per this specific data in the internal report, Tamil Nadu had a total of 4,95,480 COVID-19 positive admissions in various facilities and 8,339 deaths till September 7. However, the publicly released bulletin had only 4,69,256 cases and 7,925 deaths till that day.
Interestingly, while the total number of cases and deaths was higher, the number of active cases on September 7 as per this data was only 44,067, which was 7,148 cases lesser than the data in the media bulletin (51,215).
Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan attributed the mismatch to possible duplications.
The same data on admissions collated by the department on September 11 (also available with The Hindu), had a mismatch of 24,336 more in total cases, 450 more in deaths, and 6,847 lesser in active cases.T. Jacob John, renowned virologist and retired Professor of Clinical Virology at Christian Medical College, Vellore, said that while the inconsistency cannot be immediately attributed to any underreporting of data or lack of transparency, it clearly showed the inefficiencies in collection of data when it came to public health.
We have long neglected data in our health management system. For instance, we have never counted tuberculosis or diphtheria properly. The exception was polio as we had a goal of zero, he said, adding that COVID-19 has once again stressed the importance to be given to data.
J. Radhakrishnan, Health Secretary, ruled out underreporting or staggered reporting of COVID-19 data. By way of explanation, he attributed the mismatch to possible duplications or other minor inconsistencies that might have crept into the data collected in the particular format.
The control room run by the Directorate of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (DPH) is the nerve centre when it came to notifiable diseases, he said, adding that it collected data at the patient-level directly from labs and through proper reporting channels from hospitals and other institutions. This was further cross-checked at multiple levels to remove duplications, he explained.
Pointing out that this was the sacrosanct and accurate data, he said that the [contentious] numbers on admissions on the other hand, available in the internal report, are not collected at the patient-level, but as total numbers.
He said the internal report was basically prepared for decision-makers, primarily to give an indication on the availability of hospital beds and not for the number of COVID-19 cases.
Arguing that the State was forthcoming and transparent on COVID-19 data, he highlighted that the media bulletin even gave specific details on every death.