Monday, June 27

Doctors want more transparency about COVID deaths in Hungary

Public health professionals and journalists in Hungary and other Central and Eastern European countries have demanded greater transparency and more detailed data on the COVID-19 pandemic since some of the first outbreaks last year.

But in many cases, information is still difficult to obtain, even though some experts say greater government transparency could help increase lagged vaccination rates and mitigate a further increase in cases and deaths in the region.

Dr. Zoltan Komaromi, a family doctor in Budapest, told the Associated Press that the Hungarian government should “disclose data for each case of illness, which vaccine the patient received, when it was administered, and the severity of each illness in relation to the vaccine. “.

In Hungary, a country of less than 10 million people, COVID-19 infection rates in recent weeks have broken records, while daily per capita deaths are the highest in the world.

But despite this, doubts about vaccines remain a persistent problem due to the lack of official communication about the pandemic.

While Hungary was one of the first vaccination leaders in Europe due to sourcing injections from China and Russia, as well as through the European Union, vaccination rates in recent months have dropped dramatically.

Almost 30% of the adult population in Hungary have not yet received a single dose.

That, coupled with flexible mitigation measures, has given Hungary a seven-day average of nearly 200 deaths a day, part of an increase that has yet to cause vaccine skeptics to take a hit.

Governments in many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, publish detailed dashboards online where users can learn about pandemic trends through interactive maps, graphs, and other data.

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But Hungary’s coronavirus website does not provide geographic breakdowns of pandemic trends, and updates to pandemic numbers are posted every day in a text block that does not contain data visualizations showing the relative rise or fall of pandemic numbers. pandemic indicators.

Illes Szurovecz, a journalist for the Hungarian news website, says that the data released by the government is insufficient to have a clear idea of ​​how the pandemic is unfolding and that the information provided is opaque and difficult to follow.

The Hungarian government publishes only very basic data every day on the number of infections and deaths, how many are in hospitals, and how many received a vaccine. But Szurovecz said that is not enough.

Among the data requested by experts and journalists are regional and municipal breakdowns of infections, deaths and vaccination rates.

The Hungarian government and the National Center for Public Health did not respond to requests for comment.

Last month, the Hungarian National Freedom of Information and Data Protection Authority issued a statement requesting that the government disclose infection data at the municipal level to mayors.

The statement said that both local leaders and the public “need to know the numbers in order to make informed decisions about how to protect themselves against the pandemic.”

Similar problems were previously reported during the pandemic in the Czech Republic, where local mayors said they lacked details on the number of people infected in their towns and cities.

This affected some of its mitigation efforts, such as the distribution of personal protective equipment, but the problems were finally fixed late last year.

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Reliance on official statistics has also been an issue in Russia, where some experts have criticized official data on COVID-19 infections and deaths provided by Russia’s state coronavirus task force.

They argued that the reported numbers were likely an undercount.

Data analysts have pointed to inconsistencies in Russia’s virus statistics that they say suggest manipulation.

Their research targeted regions that report a similar number of new cases for days in a row, or the number of deaths in regional reports that differ from those in federal reports.

As of Thursday, Russia’s task force reported more than 9.8 million confirmed cases of the virus during the pandemic and 282,462 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe so far.

But a report released last week by the state statistics agency Rosstat, which uses broader criteria, puts the total number of virus-related deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 at more than 537,000.

This was almost double the official toll, although the number does not include the count for November and the first week of December.

In Hungary, experts and journalists have often intervened in an effort to obtain more detailed information, despite government efforts to withhold data.

In the absence of detailed official data, many of the Hungarian journalists have tried to report from inside hospitals to get a clearer picture of conditions on the ground.

But the Hungarian government has banned journalists from entering medical facilities to report on the pandemic and has banned medical personnel from giving interviews.

According to Szurovecz, “the press cannot report from hospitals at any level.”

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He believes that if the media were allowed into hospitals and doctors showed “the stresses and strains of their work,” people “would be more careful.”

During a devastating increase in the pandemic last March, more than two dozen Hungarian media outlets sent an open letter to the government demanding greater transparency.

The letter said that the lack of access to hospitals made it impossible to report worsening conditions there, creating a false image of the seriousness of the situation.

The Hungarian government has argued that testing is an ineffective means of controlling the pandemic and that only mass vaccination can save lives.

He also argues that the country’s high official death rate is the result of broader criteria for attributing a death to COVID-19.

During comments in Hungary’s parliament this week, an opposition lawmaker asked Prime Minister Viktor Orban why the death rate from COVID-19 in Hungary was so much higher than that of some of its neighbors.

Orban denied the highest death rates in the country, compared to anywhere else, and said this was an insult to the efforts of Hungarian doctors.

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