Telangana’s decision to discontinue daily bulletins raises eyebrows

The Director of Public Health and Family Welfare announced that they will be discontinuing the daily bulletins on COVID-19 numbers from Wednesday.
CM KCR, dressed in white, seated in front of a background which has hospital beds
CM KCR, dressed in white, seated in front of a background which has hospital beds
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Telangana’s Director of Public Health and Family Welfare on Tuesday night announced that Telangana would be discontinuing the release of daily COVID-19 bulletins. Instead, the government would be releasing a weekly bulletin. The official reason announced said that human resources used for issuing bulletins will now be used in the vaccination drive. 

The release from the Director’s office read, “In the last few months, we have noticed no major changes in cases of COVID-19 in Telangana and have realised that instead of dedicating exclusive human resources to this effect, it might be a good idea to utilise and immerse them in the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination drive in Telangana. That’s the reason why we have decided to share Covid bulletins once a week, instead of daily bulletins in the hope of using the manpower towards the ongoing vaccination drive.  Of course, in case of any significant development, we will ensure that our media friends are well informed.”

The medical bulletins put out by the Telangana health department had made it to the news several times in the past for all the wrong reasons. Initially, it was because the bulletins were very complex and several people had raised issues with understanding the format.

However, a few weeks later, the format was changed multiple times and finally when they finalized one particular format-- the data provided in the health bulletins did not tally with the numbers reflected on the state’s COVID-19 website. However, the Director denied allegations about a lack of transparency. "The Telangana government has never hidden any data. There is no need for that. We are fully transparent," Director of Public Health and Family Welfare, Dr G Srinivasa Rao, declared at a press meet in July.

Later, another controversy broke out when the District Medical Health Officers (DMHO) of the various districts in the state were asked to stop releasing the bulletins from their respective districts. The decision was taken after several cases of discrepancies were highlighted by the media. The data in the bulletins released by the DMHOs were often found to be not tallying with the data released by the state.

While opposition parties are sure to slam the government for lack of transparency and for sending across a wrong message to the public about the end of the pandemic, TNM spoke to various non-political entities to find out what impact this decision can really have.

‘Decision will harm efforts to control the pandemic’

Rijo M John, a health economist who is also an adjunct professor at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in Kerala, has been following the COVID-19 cases across the country throughout the pandemic. He felt that this decision to discontinue the daily bulletins will harm both public health interests and the efforts to control the pandemic. Reacting to the decision of the Telangana government, Rijo said, “Telangana had the dubious distinction of not being transparent with daily COVID-19 related numbers during the early part of the pandemic. However, the state had significantly improved its data reporting later on. Regular and updated data dissemination is an important part of pandemic control and the state’s decision to discontinue regular and timely release of data will harm both public health interests and pandemic control efforts.”

‘People need to continue to follow safety precautions’

Dr Sanjeev Singh Yadav, Secretary of the Telangana unit of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), felt the media anyway never believed the numbers put out by the government and that they had their own calculations. Dr Yadav said, “The medical bulletins released by the government were only read by the educated class. The bulletins had no impact on the people from the rural setup. Weekly bulletins should be fine but all said and done, with the advent of the rise in cases in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, the updates due to this should have been added as then it would have given a much clearer picture about whether the resurgence is happening again or not.”

“People have already taken things very lightly, everything is back to normal. My advice to people is that whatever is being done now is as per the government’s direction, people still need to take the necessary precautions at least for a period of six more months,'' advised Dr Yadav.

‘Weekly bulletins should be accurate’

Vijay Gopal, an anti-corruption activist who has also taken up several issues regarding lack of transparency, felt that as long as the government shares the numbers accurately and transparently, weekly updates will suffice. He said, “It is a time-consuming activity for the department to put this together daily. Considering the people have already started moving around without fear and stopped following COVID-19 news as seriously as they used to during 2020, I would say it is better to have weekly updates. I hope the department does not share wrong numbers and that the accuracy is not affected.”

Dr Ashish Chauhan, a COVID-19 expert working with Apollo Hospitals, too felt that a weekly update would suffice. He said, “COVID-19 is a pandemic and its management as well as reporting needs to be managed responsibly so as a person who handles and manages COVID-19 cases directly, I believe a weekly update as decided by the Telangana Govt is a sensible decision.”

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