Beyond sex and age, very few countries reported disaggregated data on COVID-19, limiting pandemic responses tailored for vulnerable communities

June 19, 2023

CAMBRIDGE, 1 June 2023- National COVID-19 data disaggregated by demographic characteristics has been underreported globally. This is despite the commitment that countries made in target Sustainable Development Goal 17.18 to “enhance capacity-building support to developing countries […] to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.”

Ravi Verma, Asia Regional Director, International Center for Research on Women, commenting on the need for disaggregated data said, “We cannot identify health inequities without data disaggregated by demographic characteristics. The absence of this data across much of the globe is lamentable and highlights why SDG 17.18 is sorely needed. Until we reach these targets we won’t be fully prepared for the next pandemic.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a key global event by which we can measure progress on this goal. While SDG 17.18 focused on “least developed countries and small island developing states”, the data published by the partnership of Global Health 50/50, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), and the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) indicates that the majority of countries have a long way to go to meet the SDG target.

The repository of disaggregated data reviewed the reporting of national COVID-19 data of 205 countries in October 2022 on variables such as race or ethnicity, place of residence (urban/rural), pregnancy status, refugee status, and reporting the presence of other clinical conditions (illnesses) in people with COVID-19. The data shows very little availability of disaggregated data on COVID-19 and race or ethnicity (5 countries), disability (5 countries), socio-economic status (4 countries), or the impact of COVID-19 in people with pre-existing illnesses/comorbidities (16 countries). The majority of countries that reported disaggregated data are classified as high-income. Low-income countries have the least disaggregated data available.

Commenting on these findings, Sarah Hawkes and Kent Buse, co-directors of Global Health 50/50 said, “Data is political. What data is collected and how it is analyzed are political choices. Whether policymakers decide to disaggregate public health data by sex, age, disability, income or other markers of disadvantage reveals so much about whether they truly care about who is being left behind. The time is now to demand more disaggregated data to guide public health action.”

Data disaggregated by demographic characteristics enhances the ability of countries to promote equitable access to prevention and care interventions, monitor the possible inequitable impacts of the pandemic on different groups of people, and ensure that no one is left behind in response to the pandemic.

The researchers made five recommendations for strengthening the quality and availability of disaggregated data:

  1. Collect data disaggregated by as many of the recommended demographic characteristics outlined in SDG 17.18 as possible.
  2. Demographic characteristics will vary by region or context and should be clearly defined  (with the involvement of affected population groups) and standardized to the extent possible for anyone accessing or using the data.
  3. Research institutes and national surveillance and statistical offices engaged in collecting and publishing disaggregated data need central support, including appropriate funding.
  4. Disaggregated data should be open in formats that are accessible.
  5. Decision makers should more routinely use disaggregated data to shape and inform policy–and particularly to identify and address population groups left behind.

Reflecting on the new repository, Lorenz Noe, Research manager at Open Data Watch said, “Without COVID-19 data disaggregated by demographic characteristics, we risk overlooking the unique challenges and needs of specific groups, perpetuating health disparities and inequities that have persisted for far too long. This repository shows just how many countries are facing this risk.”

Notes to Editors:

  1. Once live, the repository can be found here:
  2. Global Health 50/50® is an independent not-for-profit initiative that generates comprehensive analysis, action and accountability for intersectional gender equality in health globally. Initiated in 2018, its annual global report along with the Gender and Health Index monitors the policies and practices of hundreds of organizations active in global health and health policy.
  3. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is a global research institute with offices located in Washington, D.C.; New Delhi, India; Nairobi, Kenya; and Kampala, Uganda. Established in 1976 and anchored in the principle of human dignity, ICRW advances gender equity, social inclusion and shared prosperity worldwide. Our researchers dig into the ways gender shapes societies and the ways people’s lives are diminished by power imbalances. We use evidence to inform our advocacy, advisory services and program design. Our evidence sheds light on some of the most intractable challenges facing us and informs solutions that work.
  4. The African Population and Health Research Center is the continent’s premier research institution and think tank, exploring questions of population health and wellbeing. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, with a newly opened satellite office in Dakar, Senegal, the Center seeks to drive change with evidence led by a growing cadre of research leaders from across sub-Saharan Africa. Our teams orient their research agendas according to global and continental development priorities, driven by the belief that Africa and African-generated evidence must be at the forefront of decisions supporting improved growth and development.
  5. For more information about this story, or to arrange interviews, contact: Alex Parker,