A number of positive initiatives have been taken to collect information on the Covid-19, but these did not take into consideration other economic and social indicators, resulting in an incomplete picture of the pandemic shocks, experts said at a discussion.
They also pointed the data collected was not institutionalised due to a lack of manpower and technology.
At the Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on "Data Issues and the Pandemic" organised by the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on Tuesday, with the participation of public and private researchers, it was highlighted how most of the recent information collected came from user-end data such as from telecoms or vaccine registration.
This gave a one-sided perspective to the situation as no information was available on those who had not registered or did not use mobile phones.
Furthermore, it was pointed out that most of the available data was not being used for research or policy-making at either government or private levels.
Against this backdrop, the CPD suggested strengthening data collection initiatives, including the Covid-19 data dashboard and the Surokkha app.
It also stressed the need for coordination when different organisations undertake similar initiatives, enhancement of public-private partnerships, use of new technologies and recruitment of permanent manpower to sustain the initiatives.
CPD's Distinguished Fellow Professor Mustafizur Rahman, during his address, proposed establishing an open-for-all knowledge hub with all the data collected by government and private organisations.
He said many people were researching the impacts of Covid-19 on people's health and socio-economic conditions and many new findings were being revealed. Having a knowledge hub would make all this information available to everyone.
He also said that while it was easy to know how many people were affected by Covid-19, it was hard to know their socio-economic background. There was also no information on how many people had lost their jobs or incomes amid the pandemic. Without knowing these, it would be hard to develop relevant and effective policies.
Mustafizur said that credible statistics were needed and the government needed to have the political will to create those.
Dr AM Zakir Hussain, working group member, Bangladesh Health Watch, called for research into how many people had developed antibodies and how effective the Covid-19 vaccines have been in the country.
Anir Chowdhury, a policy adviser for the A2I project, pointed out that those with low incomes were less likely to use mobile phones.
He said by gauging how much time a person spends talking on the mobile phone or how many texts they send, it would be possible to identify their income. Using machine learning, a 1,000 similar indicators can be collated and analysed, and this will help the government's social security activities.
He added that in Bangladesh, some assistance was provided under social security programmes following natural disasters, but the relief would be more effective if it could be provided before such calamities. He recommended using the Water Development Board's database in this regard.
Professor Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional director general (ADG), Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said that a culture of policy-making using data was being created, but it was still in its infancy and needed to be strengthened.
She said the Department of Health was making various decisions by analysing the Covid-19 database each week, with deputy commissioners and civil surgeons also being given access to it to aid them in making decisions at a local level. Information on hospital capacity at district levels was also being disseminated.
"We work on health information," Flora said, adding, "If economic data can be combined with this, then the overall situation will improve."
Responding to a query, she said the positivity rate was based on the number of patients who had tested positive, but this was not a complete picture of the entire scenario. She said many people did not test for the virus, suggesting that surveys be conducted to know the actual number of those infected.
The ADG also said it was not possible to know the actual number of deaths due to Covid-19 for the same reason.
In regards to the Covid-19 database, she said it was being built on an ad-hoc basis using existing technology, but permanent manpower was needed to expand the system.
Dr Rumana Huque, professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka, said much of the data from the Bureau of Statistics was outdated, adding that results of many surveys were released years after those were conducted, making them redundant.
Dr Morseda Chowdhury, director, Health, Nutrition and Population Program (HNPP), BRAC, said no information was available from remote areas. She urged for a method to collect information from such areas to know the overall condition of the disadvantaged communities there.
Professor Rashid-E-Mahbub, chairman, National Committee on Health Rights Movement, said that Covid-19 had changed many things in people's lives, including their food habits and lifestyles. Many who do leave their homes, have also changed their hygiene practices.
He suggested conducting a survey to highlight the changing lifestyles of people.
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya said that despite positive changes in data collection due to the coronavirus, it was actually limited to the health sector only.
All these initiatives should be brought into the system and its size and scope should be increased. He also suggested increasing manpower and use of technology to make these initiatives sustainable.