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A call to action for COVID-19 open data in Zimbabwe

Call for COVID-19 open data

By Gamuchirai Perekwa

This week, 23 March 2021 marked exactly one year since the first COVID-19 fatality was recorded in Zimbabwe. This first fatal case was of a prominent 30-year-old television journalist, Zororo Makamba. Just a few days before his death, in what appeared to be a premonition, Zororo challenged the Government of Zimbabwe to establish mechanisms to inform the public about Coronavirus, as succinctly captured in the below Twitter post:

The late Zororo Makamba’s post

As we reflect on the 1-year long fight with COVID-19 in Zimbabwe, I am driven to enquire:

  1. What is the state of openness and availability of public COVID-19 Data online in Zimbabwe?
  2. Is COVID-19 public information and data readily available in a timely fashion to support decision making, response, research, advocacy, and policymaking for the state, academia, public institutions, communities, humanitarian, and development actors?

A quick search on the internet for the COVID-19 public data in Zimbabwe led me to three places, The Ministry of Health and Child Care Website, The Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) Twitter page, and Zimbabwe Data Portal. The results of my search show that there is still a huge gap for improvement with regards to online public COVID-19 information in Zimbabwe.

For starters, it would be beneficial if a one-stop dedicated COVID-19 data hub can be developed. The COVID-19 data hub will consist of an informative web front providing all the relevant information about COVID-19 including tips and real-time interactive dashboards that provide key statistics on COVID-19.

The interactive dashboards will provide mechanisms for self-service analytics, such that the public can extrapolate the data to their need. To exemplify this, a Legislator in Harare by a click of a button would be able to know the number of active cases within districts under his/her constituency in Gokwe and timely plan response.

Within few seconds of interacting with the COVID-19 data hub, a humanitarian organization identifies COVID-19 hotspot areas and targets for increased COVID-19 risk awareness campaigns in those hotspots. By having access to historical COVID-19 trends in Zimbabwe, a research institution develops a predictive model for the potential spread of COVID-19 and mitigation strategies.

South Africa, albeit in a different epidemiological state has a model of a COVID-19 Data Hub, from which we can emulate from. South Africa also has a good example of a Provincial level of Data Hub:

Who is responsible for the development of the COVID-19 Data Hub:

  • The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) has the primary responsibility.
  • Quasi-Government institution e.g ZIMSTAT
  • Academia
  • International Donor and Humanitarian community at the invitation of GoZ, eg.
    • World Bank: has been a champion of Open Data initiative for some time
    • WHO
    • CDC
    • Melinda and Gates Foundation

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende