Africa Regional Report highlights ‘concerning’ lack of COVID-19 data amid vaccine rollout

January 21, 2021

As much of the world awaits the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, a leading global health research partnership has reported that national governments globally are either not publishing or stopped publishing crucial COVID-19 related data that could inform decisions about vaccine rollout. 

Despite robust evidence that shows marked differences in rates of COVID-19 testing, hospitalizations, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, and deaths between men and women, the partnership behind the Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Report finds only half of the world’s countries are currently reporting any data across these indicators broken down by sex – and some which had been doing so have stopped, or are doing so too inconsistently to monitor trends. This can be further seen with data from our tracker indicating that only seven of the 47 African countries currently being tracked reported sex-disaggregated data for both COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths.

The Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Project is a partnership between Global Health 50/50 (GH5050), the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC). The project is building the world’s largest database of sex-disaggregated data on COVID-19, investigating the roles sex and gender are playing in the outbreak; building an evidence-base of what works to tackle gender disparities; and advocating for effective gender-responsive approaches to the pandemic. Findings from the African region are highlighted in the Regional Report published today.

The failure to prioritize sex-disaggregated data has sparked concern among researchers and health experts that a lack of data will adversely impact pandemic planning, recovery and COVID-19 vaccination programs.

The GH5050 co-founder and Professor of Global Public Health at University College London, Sarah Hawkes said: “While data exists for other key characteristics such as age and pre-existing conditions, the availability of information that shows how men and women are affected by COVID-19 is lacking. Without this, health authorities will not have the complete information needed to ensure that potential vaccination programs are effectively reaching all parts of the population equally.”

Initial research shows that the pandemic impacts women and men differently. The available data from the project’s Sex-Disaggregated Data Tracker shows that while women and men account for a similar proportion of COVID-19 cases globally, there are roughly 14 deaths in men for every 10 deaths in women. Although, these trends differ regionally.

By the end of November, the Data Tracker had captured 1,134,296 cases reported by sex across the 47 countries in the WHO-AFRO region. Among these cases, 47% are men and 53% are women. Among the 21,309 deaths for which sex-disaggregated data was available, 54% were men and 46% were women.

All countries should collect and publish data on COVID-19 disaggregated by sex as an essential pillar of their reporting. However, there is still a lack of data by sex and understanding of how the pandemic affects women and men differently. The data for tracking cases and deaths by sex are incomplete for most countries in the AFRO region. Of the 47 countries tracked, 22 have never reported any sex-disaggregated data on confirmed cases and 35 countries have never reported any data by sex on deaths.

Without consistent and reliable reporting of data that track numbers of men and women affected by the pandemic, GH5050 argues that it is impossible to make evidence-informed decisions about whether a future vaccination program will reach all sections of the population fairly. Global Health 50/50 is calling for countries to ensure that sex-disaggregated data is central to their planning and monitoring as the world turns its attention to ramping up ambitious vaccine rollouts. 

The Executive Director of APHRC, Dr. Catherine Kyobutungi, said: “The data tracker has clearly demonstrated that the reporting of sex-disaggregated data is often inconsistent, incomplete, or simply inaccessible. The high variability in the data is a major obstacle to both national analysis and cross-country comparisons. It poses a challenge in designing and monitoring effective COVID-19 responses, as well as developing evidence-based response strategies. There needs to be greater commitment and prioritization from countries to generate and avail disaggregated data if we are to fight the gendered effects of COVID-19.

The Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Project Regional Report published today shows concerning findings among the 186 countries monitored by the partnership:

  • At the end of November 2020, sex-disaggregated data was available for 78% of cases and 65% of deaths in the region.
  • Of the 47 countries in the AFRO region, 22 (47%) have never reported sex-disaggregated data on confirmed COVID-19 cases and 35 countries (75%) have never reported such data on deaths. 
  • The sex-disaggregated data that exist for confirmed cases in the region are also disaggregated by age in 82% of countries and for deaths by age is 71%.
  • Data is not available for other intersectional characteristics like employment or socioeconomic status.
  • The gender distribution of cases and deaths varies significantly across the region, and in comparison to global figures. In South Africa, which is home to two-thirds of all confirmed deaths in the region, the number of deaths in men and women is roughly the same. Across the other countries reporting, men account for a much greater proportion (70%) of all deaths.
  • In all 47 tracked countries, there are no publicly available sub-national sex-disaggregated data for two primary indicators, namely confirmed cases and deaths.

The Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Project is a collaboration of leading global health research bodies: Global Health 50/50 (GH5050), which is housed within University College London, the Washington-based International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)’s regional office in Delhi and the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) in Kenya. Full findings of the report and the latest results of the tracker can be found here