Global report highlights ‘concerning’ lack of COVID-19 data amid vaccine rollout
For immediate release
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 stopping publishing crucial data which could inform decisions about vaccine rollout.
Despite robust evidence that shows marked differences in rates of COVID-19 testing, hospitalisations, 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.
The findings by the three research organisations – Europe-based Global Health 50/50, the African Population and Health Research Center, and the International Center for Research on Women in India and the US – are published today.
The failure to prioritise sex-disaggregated data has sparked concern among research and health experts that a lack of data will adversely impact pandemic planning, recovery and vaccination programmes.
Global Health 50/50 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 programmes 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.
The need to use sex-disaggregated data to inform vaccination programmes is demonstrably clear:
A recent study at Strasbourg University hospitals in France showed that antibody levels against the virus that causes COVID-19 fall faster in men than women. This finding has led the authors of the report, yet to be peer-reviewed but published in international media last week, to question whether future vaccines might provide longer protection in women than in men.
Professor Samira Fafi-Kremer, Head of the Virology Department at Strasbourg University Hospital and senior author of the study said: “Our study shows that even though men have a higher response in the acute phase of the COVID-19, their decline in antibody levels is much faster over time, while women seem to have more stable levels. Our data suggest that the duration of protection after SARS-CoV-2 infection or vaccination will be different in women and men – making it all the more essential to report sex-disaggregated data throughout COVID-19 responses, including vaccination programmes.”
With initial data strongly suggesting COVID-19 impacts sexes differently, countries should be collecting more data to understand these differences. However, without regular, recent and reliable reporting of data that track numbers of men and women affected by the pandemic, Global Health 50/50 argues that it is impossible to make evidence-informed decisions about whether a future vaccination programme will reach all sections of the population fairly.
The project currently tracks sex-disaggregated data on testing, confirmed cases, hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths, but plans to expand its scope to tracking data on COVID-19 vaccinations programmes by sex. 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.
Anuradha Gupta, Deputy CEO of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, said: “Mainstreaming gender is critical to addressing persistent inequities in immunisation. Leaving no one behind with life-saving immunisation is central to Gavi’s new strategy. Working with countries and communities to identify and address gender-related barriers, and collection and use of sex-disaggregated data as highlighted in GH5050’s latest report, will facilitate a more sustainable recovery from the pandemic. This is a moment to seize for all of us.”
The Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Project report published today shows concerning findings among the 183 countries monitored by the partnership:
- Only half (51%) of the 183 countries monitored published any sex-disaggregated data on the COVID-19 epidemic in the last month – a decline from 54% that published any such data in the previous month.
- Due to gaps in reporting of sex-disaggregated data, the sex of roughly 4 in 10 cases and 3 in 10 deaths globally remain unknown.
- No single country is reporting sex-disaggregated data across the key indicators that show who is getting tested, sick and dying from COVID-19. Those indicators include testing, confirmed cases, hospitalisation, ICU admission and deaths.
- In the past month, only 1 in 3 countries globally reported sex-disaggregated data on both confirmed cases and deaths. When countries don’t report this data at the same time, researchers are unable to calculate and compare the proportion of cases that result in death between men and women.
- The available sex-disaggregated data indicate that, globally, for every 10 cases in women there are 11 cases in men, and for every 10 admissions of women to intensive care, there are 19 in men. Among those who die from COVID-19, for every 10 deaths in women there are 14 deaths in men.
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:
About the sex disaggregated data tracker
The tracker monitors differences in COVID-19 infection, illness and death among women and men. Please see the link below to view the data for 183 countries.
About Global Health 50/50
Global Health 50/50, housed at University College London, is an independent research and advocacy initiative that promotes far-reaching transparency, action and accountability to advance gender equality and health equity. Established in 2017, it brings together leading feminists including doctors, academics, journalists, politicians and policy experts from all corners of the world.
About The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)
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. Our research evidence identifies women’s contributions as well as the obstacles that prevent them from being economically strong and able to fully participate in society. ICRW translates these insights into a path of action that honours women’s human rights, ensures gender equality, and creates the conditions in which all women can thrive.
About The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC)
The African Population and Health Research Center is the continent’s premier research institution and think tank, generating evidence to drive policy action to improve the health and wellbeing of African people. Our mission is to generate evidence, strengthen research capacity and engage policy to inform action on population health and wellbeing.
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