21 June 2020
Data could be the key to flattening the curve in South Africa
Ever imagined a world where data is an integral solution for most pressing challenges, where data is a vehicle through which obstacles are conquered? Well imagine no more as we are currently living in that world.
These are sentiments shared by countries that have flattened the COVID-19 infection curve by effectively using its data. Data containing people’s health records, their movements and daily interactions can help us overcome the pandemic. However, successfully deriving value from it is dependent on fit-for-purpose data management practices.
Since its move to level three of the national lockdown, South Africa has recorded high numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths. The country therefore has large data sets that could be vital in responding to the pandemic. An effective response is, however, dependent on the country’s ability to transpose, use, handle and secure data.
Data management refers to deliverables undertaken in making raw data usable.
Data governance in turn refers to formal structures established to preside over data deliverables.
It is time that South Africa embrace data-centricity by fast-tracking embedment of data management practices to derive value from data. The application of data governance would be such that the National Command Council would be the data governance steering committee. Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize would be the data owner, assigning a team of data stewards to embed data management controls in COVID-19 data touch points.
The stewardship core team would be responsible for translating raw data into usable information; applying statistical modelling for predictive analysis; and presiding over a master repository used as a central data consumption point.
With the above in place, stewards would prioritise improving data quality, integrity and trustworthiness while equally using data to predict where and how fast the pandemic would spread.
Data provided by this team would be used to trace contacts of infected individuals. Additionally, stewards would be permitted to access movement data gathered through personal mobile devices once an infection has been confirmed and self-quarantine is a choice of preference. This data would solely be used for monitoring infected individuals’ movements during self-quarantine and would be handled in line with privacy regulations.
These practices were used in some Asian countries to flatten the curve. China tracked infected people through smartphones’ QR code, certifying that they were healthy prior to accessing some shops and restaurants.
South Korea conducted extensive tracking through smartphone applications and text messages. In Japan, the government made COVID-19 data openly sourced and partnered with LINE, the country’s messaging App, to circulate voluntary COVID-19 health questionnaires to users, with responses relayed to health authorities. This move was successful in flattering the curve.
- Gwala is a data governance manager at Alexander Forbes.