During the covid-19 pandemic, accurate statistics proved even more relevant for global organizations to better define what inputs and resources should be sent, and also for the local government to decide the next steps, such as opening schools and businesses. In Venezuela, however, health professionals are in the dark, and they have had to act secretly in search of reliable information.
Doctors and nurses have banded together in clandestine networks to collect data from hospitals and send them to research institutes and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to be compiled and disseminated. This has revealed a scenario of chaos, much worse than that presented by the Nicolás Maduro regime. The information is from an article published on the website of the scientific journal Nature.
The Venezuelan government releases data that, compared to neighboring countries, are unrealistic. It is estimated that the actual numbers of cases and deaths by covid-19 in the country are between five and seven times higher than the official ones.
Officially, around 3,900 of its 29 million inhabitants would have died by covid-19. In Colombia and Brazil, respectively, there are 2,440 and 2,700 deaths per million people.
The numbers, which do not reflect reality, are the result of a lack of tests, poor health infrastructure, many deaths that occur at home and are not recorded – and also a government effort to minimize the severity and lack of control of the situation of the parents.
Venezuela’s economy has collapsed in the last decade. At least 5.4 million people have left the country and, according to the UN, around 90% of the remaining population live in poverty.
For specialists, this situation may indeed have hindered the spread of the virus — since most inhabitants are unable to travel or attend social events.
Even so, government data does not match what has been clandestinely collected in hospitals.
According to the organization Médicos Unidos Venezuela, among health workers alone, there have been 736 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. In a few weeks, deaths of doctors and nurses were higher than the number officially released for the entire country.
With the lack of tests, many of the diagnoses are made based on symptoms — not ideal, but it gives a much more realistic picture than government statistics, which only consider PCR positive.
How do they mine the data
In Peru, the situation is similar in terms of lack of more concrete data. In May, the government needed to update official information on deaths by covid-19, after researchers warned that they did not represent the real situation in the country. The result was tripled numbers.
The solution came with math and statistics, considering the deaths in excess of the period, that is, comparing how many people would die in a given time, in normal pre-pandemic situations, with the current deaths.
Even in developed nations, scores can be underestimated. In the United States, the number of deaths is believed to be 20% higher than that reported by the government, due to several factors, including misdiagnosis.
Therein lies the importance of crossing data and the work of researchers, but which finds yet another obstacle in Venezuela. Since 2016, the Ministry of Health has not published mortality statistics in the country. So there is no recent comparative factor.
How to identify variants that work in Venezuela?
International organizations tried to carry out nasal-type tests in the country, to sequence the genome of circulating viruses, but were prevented by the government — which never released information about variants. One of the ways around the situation was to act outside the borders.
They analyzed samples from Venezuelans who migrated to Colombia during the pandemic. And it was possible to get an idea of the situation: six variants were confirmed, including the beta and the gamma, which are considered of concern.
This work outside the country also avoids possible reprisals. At least 12 health professionals have been detained by the government for speaking publicly about the pandemic in Venezuela.