December 17, 2018

Data Story of the Day: Pakistan’s Measles Crisis

The Express Tribune’s story on Pakistan’s measles challenge is our Data Story of the Day today.

Using numbers from the World Health Organization, the story reveals that the number of measles cases tested positive went up to 6,494 in 2017 from 2,845 in 2016 in Pakistan.

Here are some more highlights from the story:

• A total of 10,450 suspected cases of measles were tested in labs in Pakistan over the 2017 calendar year. Out of these, 6,494 tested positive.

• None of the cases were investigated for further action

• Poor implementation of regular immunisation is major reason for the increasing incidence rate, which the story suggests is 36.67 percent.

• Except Punjab and Azad Jammu & Kashmir, all other Pakistani territories report less than 50 percent coverage of immunisation, which is well below the 80-95% coverage required to prevent measles outbreak.

Context is key

The news report tries to provide context by comparing Pakistan’s numbers with the cases reported in “war-ravaged” Afghanistan, which are fewer than Pakistan. However, this only seems to be an absolute number comparison because Afghanistan’s absolute rate for positive cases is almost the same as Pakistan – two out of every three suspected cases are tested positive. The World Health Organization data is based on numbers reported by countries themselves. Since Afghanistan has weaker health infrastructure than Pakistan, it is likely that the number of measles incidents there are under reported.

What’s good is that the reporter provides the background of the weak immunisation implementation in the country along with identification of minimum required efforts.

Some issues in the story

The story reports the measles incidence as a percentage. Of what, we’re not sure? Usually the measles incidence is given as a rate per 100,000 population and is calculated by dividing the total confirmed cases by total population and then multiplying by 100,000. It’s a per-calculation but not out of 100 of some thing.

Aggregate sources are not a good sign, and this story relies on “health experts”, “officials” and the “administration”. The report could have featured a couple of human sources on record with updated plans on vaccination campaigns. Oh, well.

Follow our Data Story of the Day tag to read more local data-driven investigative stories.

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