Data helps the public understand where help is most
Indigenous Amazonian populations in Ecuador can now see how COVID-19 is affecting their communities through a platform designed and updated by the NGO Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (Confeniae).
Before the launch of this platform in July 2020, there was no official information that was publicly available about COVID-19’s spread among Ecuador’s 11 Amazonian peoples. These communities are particularly vulnerable to the virus because of limited access to public services and basic necessities, including healthcare and potable water.
According to Andrés Tapia, Confeniae’s communications director, there were repeated calls for disaggregated data to be made available during press briefings and speeches from government leaders in order to understand the impact of the virus on indigenous Amazonian populations. However, when faced with what they felt was an ineffective government response to those demands, Confeniae created its own COVID-19 tracker. The NGO helps facilitate testing with the help of universities, and receives case numbers from different sources such as indigenous communities and government institutions.
The aim of Confeniae’s project is to allocate services and deliver aid to communities most affected by the virus. According to Confeniae, there are now almost 2000 cases, with the highest case concentration among the Kiwchua, Shuar and Waorani communities.
Global Voices author Carlos Flores spoke with Tapia through Zoom about the hard work that goes into data collection for the COVID-19 dashboard.
Carlos Flores (CF): Tell us about this COVID-19 tracking initiative in Ecuador’s Amazonian communities.
Andrés Tapia (AT): We designed this tool after seeing that the government failed to provide official information. For the first few months of the pandemic, there was practically no formal information about the impact that COVID-19 could have in indigenous areas. Seeing this gap, we began the task of organizing all the COVID-19 records into a database. At first, the [data] emerged from alerts in each territory, afterwards it was confirmed by implementing rapid tests, and later on, a majority confirmed through PCR tests which we did with several universities. We began publishing this data twice a week as an infographic. [Then] we saw that disaggregated data was required for each territory and nationality. This is where the idea of creating this dashboard came from.
CF: Is there still a lack of disaggregated data on COVID-19 and Amazonian communities that the government should be providing?
AT: The Ministry of Public Health shares disaggregated data with us that is of a more internal nature, but they are still not presenting it as official public information. The ministry’s data is therefore still not being broadcast officially. The only thing that is really being seen [with respect to data] is what we are providing. However, we are also receiving information from inside several of the [ministry’s] health districts. This is also part of the dashboard.
CF: What will people find when they go onto the website you’ve created?
AT: We created this platform along with Amazon Watch, the ALDEA Foundation and the Institute of Geography at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. But it’s worth mentioning that this data comes from the tests we carried out in collaboration with the Universidad de las Américas, the Universidad de San Francisco as well as various health districts. This tool is available in both Spanish and English and also has an application version for cell phones. The data is disaggregated for each area, in other words, for each [Amazonian] province and each nationality. You can see how many positive, suspected, and negative cases there are, how many people have recovered and how many people have died from COVID-19, how many have symptoms, how many tests have been carried out and the date on which they were completed. There is also a map showing the number of cases for each area [of the six Amazonian provinces] and for each nationality.
CF: Could you give us some technical details about the platform and how you make the data feed?
AT: Well, it is built on ArcGIS, a geospatial and geo-referenced platform. My colleagues, who are geographers, could explain the technical part to you. I work as a biologist and have been the one organizing the data, this is perhaps the most difficult part […] We receive the results from the universities we work with and this is what we feed into the Excel database, from our database as Confeniae. This information is uploaded onto the ArcGIS platform tool and our webpage is automatically updated to the “Monitoreo Covid” (Covid Tracking) tab. This is what we publish two or three times a week on Facebook, Twitter and all other platforms that we have […] We then see the number of reports there. It also shows you the percentage increase in cases during the two or three days between reports. We have seen a daily growth of between 5% and 7%. However, we have [also] seen, for example, that the number of cases increased by 50% during July. We started with 1200 cases and we are now almost at 2000 at the beginning of August.
CF: What do you intend to do with the collected data?
AT: First, the idea is that the data enables us to make the right decisions about the social welfare of affected families. In other words, with positive data we can say that it is necessary to help these families with food rations, among other things. But it also shows the government that this should be the type of aid, in other words, there is an area with an 80% infection rate and therefore it needs immediate attention. Data will always give us an argument, a technical basis to support public health actions.
CF: So, some decisions have now been made on this matter, not by the government but as a community. You have started taking action with this data.
AT: That’s right. We have been working continuously to provide social and humanitarian aid for our communities according to the results, of course. There has actually been a very poor response on the part of the government. While we have been able to coordinate with doctors from the Ministry of Health in health districts to take tests, in terms of government policies like this, in humanitarian aid, it has been really quite poor.
Written by Carlos Flores