Visualizing COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean: Challenges and opportunities for the region
September 10, 2020
Currently, the world suffers the economic and social effects of a global contingency due to COVID-19, which has affected nearly 216 nations on 5 continents (WHO, 2020). The fast spread of the virus has forced national and subnational governments to implement a series of rigorous measures that range from the closure of borders (international and national) to the decree of the partial quarantine status within cities.
In the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) case, the virus has spread throughout the region. Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Chile are in the top 10 countries with the highest confirmed cases worldwide (Johns Hopkins University, 2020). Factors such as the lack of resources to face the situation, latent poverty conditions and the low response capacity of some governments to control the emergency have made it difficult to implement containment strategies, which in European countries have been successful and have made possible to manage the infection in very short times, such as in the cases of Italy and Germany.
One of the main factors in the fight against COVID-19 has been the availability of information. Having reliable data has allowed better decisions, prioritizing actions and optimizing resources to mitigate the spread. We highlight the effort that most LAC countries have made to establish real-time monitoring systems for COVID-19 cases, which are led by government entities from the health sector such as Ministries and / or Secretariats that are being supported by the National Institutes of Statistics in the management and updating of data.
How are Latin America and the Caribbean countries communicating their situation regarding COVID-19?
One of the most used tools to communicate and follow up on COVID-19 cases are Control Panels or Dashboards. Today, 33 countries in the region have at least one Dashboard that presents general information about positive cases, the number of deaths and patients recovered, the contagion figures by dates from the first reports, among other variables.
A Dashboard is a set of graphic, informative and dynamic elements that, through a personalized structure, allows better monitoring of certain metrics or indicators, and provides the necessary inputs to strengthen decision-making processes in any given context.
A detailed review of the Dashboards in the region enabled to identify that about 73% (24) are in charge of official government entities, such as the respective ministries and health secretariats, while the remaining 27% (9) are administered by other types of actors such as civil society organizations, private sector and multilateral organizations, such as Cuba, Belize or Nicaragua.
Within the first group, we highlight that 100% of the countries present disaggregated information on the status of confirmed, deceased and / or recovered cases on a territorial scale that varies according to the political-administrative division scheme in the respective states (departments, municipalities, provinces, districts, etc.). However, only 13% includes demographic data such as age, gender and ethnic groups at these levels of territorial disaggregation, that means, the remaining 87% presents the same information in an aggregated way for the country. It is a fact that the disaggregation of this demographic information associated with COVID-19 cases makes it possible to identify the most susceptible or vulnerable population groups in specific geographic areas, and facilitates the implementation of measures aligned with the particularities of each territorial unit.
Regarding details, 83% of the Dashborads analyzed are interactive and present multiple visualizations, including thematic maps and descriptive graphics which complement the presentation of the countries´ context.
Monitoring COVID-19 in Mexico
The Government of Mexico has implemented an interactive Dashboard to monitor COVID-19 cases that presents disaggregated information for demographic variables such as age and gender, and in turn combines both the spatial approach and multivariate analysis at the graph level to generate indicators, allowing to compare the different states and municipalities.
Another aspect that stands out in this first group of Dashboards is accessibility: 83% of platforms allow users to download the data in different formats such as XLS, CSV and PDF, including open records from the date of the first confirmed COVID-19 case. On the other hand, we highlight that 100% of platforms generate daily reports, which means that the information available is up-to-date. It is evident that these digital tools help to monitor the effectiveness of actions taken by different governments, enabling to measure their real impact on a specific baseline.
Monitoring COVID-19 in Colombia
The National Health Institute is one of the entities that manages COVID-19 data in Colombia. Currently, in its digital platform it is possible to find information about the diagnosed cases by department, municipality and by demographic categories such as age, gender and population groups. Likewise, it presents a brief analysis of the installed capacity of hospitals, clinics and other medical centres to attend emergencies in the main cities.
Finally, only 52% present additional information on the traceability of the actions carried out to face the pandemic and the different states of emergency decreed by the governments of the region, such as the rendering accounts on the economic aid destined to the most vulnerable populations (Peru and Bolivia), the cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in health personnel (Uruguay and Guyana) and the evolution of cases in areas that have been in some type of quarantine (El Salvador), just to mention a few examples.
Monitoring COVID-19 in Peru
The Ministry of Public Health of Peru is the entity that leads the development of the platform to monitor COVID-19 cases in the country. In general terms, it is an interactive Dashboard that presents disaggregated data on the status of cases and demographic characteristics at the municipal level. On the other hand, it incorporates information on other variables such as the evolution and antecedents of diagnosed patients, with the intention of identifying risk scenarios for population groups with pre-existing morbidities.
On the other hand, the World Health Organization has an interactive portal that functions as an online repository for COVID-19 cases in the world. The interface is very simple with a favorable environment that facilitates navigation, allowing the user to filter by country. In terms of information, basic data associated with the number of infections and deaths are shown.
This Dashboard works very well for those countries that lack resources or technical capacity for data analysis or visualization, and have not been able to create their own platform. Also, countries that have their own monitoring system, can benefit from it as it is a complementary resource that can help validate the information available on their own portals.
Finally, another useful tool for monitoring COVID-19 cases in the world are the data hubs developed by ESRI through the ArcGis platform, which allow to filter by country and obtain greater detail of the data which, in some cases, include demographic statistics by gender and age (depending on the country). Currently, out of the 33 countries consulted in the region, 57% have Dashboards developed by ESRI.
💡 Due to COVID-19, the world is experiencing an important paradigm shift that highlights, more than ever, the need for timely and up-to-date data to make decisions related to the future of humanity, as is the case of the implementation of actions aimed at controlling the spread of the virus in a global and national context.
💡 Although most of the countries of the LAC region have carried out efforts to monitor COVID-19, the need for better levels of disaggregated data is evident, especially for demographic variables, to identify the most vulnerable groups or those susceptible to suffer the impacts of the pandemic or the effects of containment measures.
💡 Countries that have limited technical capacities in the production, processing and analysis of statistical information associated with COVID-19, can take advantage of the tools provided by the WHO platform to monitor the evolution of the pandemic and align them to their own reporting systems.
Table 1 shows the list of countries consulted in the region, as well as the respective consultation links. Please note that States that appear with an asterisk are those for which no official Dashboards were found:
Table 1. Latin America and the Caribbean COVID-19 monitoring Dashboards
 The review focused on the countries that are part of ECLAC CEA: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile , Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela.