Data discrepancies have continued to be a problem for Indonesia five months since it announced its first COVID-19 cases, prompting concerns about outdated data and declining public trust in the government.
Central Java, for instance, recorded on its website 11,423 total confirmed cases, with 3,529 active cases and 1,049 deaths as of 12 p.m. of Tuesday. However, according to the central government's tally, Central Java's cases stood at 10,765, with 3,888 active cases and 731 deaths as of Tuesday.
There is a 318-figure gap between the reported fatalities and a 658-figure gap between the confirmed cases.
The Central Java administration updates its data at 12 p.m. every day – the same cut-off time for daily data collection by the Health Ministry.
Using data from the Central Java administration, the case fatality rate stands at 9.2 percent, yet with the central government's tally, the rate significantly drops to 6.8 percent.
Central Java Health Agency head Yulianto Prabowo said the differences were to be expected because there was no "bridge" between the information systems of provinces and the central government.
He suspected that the reason for this was the difference in methods used to input data on patient domicile, with some cases recorded based on the patient’s location of residence, while other cases are based on a patient’s registered address according to their citizenship identification number (NIK) or ID card (KTP).
As a result, a patient living in Central Java, for example, could have their data recorded in a different province.
"Central Java data [is] based on domicile, central [government] data [is] based on the NIK," Yulianto told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
"We actually send complete data based on domicile and on the NIK [to the central government], but the provincial [administration] tends to use the domicile data for [our] epidemiological purposes and [COVID-19] response."
Yulianto said that before the Health Ministry started recording data using the All Record TC-19 system, COVID-19 data was input into the Bersatu Lawan Covid (BLC) system, meaning there could be cases in which "data from the old system wasn't brought into the new one".
He highlighted the need for better data integration by standardizing the variables and systems for data input.
But the national COVID-19 task force, tasked with announcing the data collected by the Health Ministry, said that it was using data that indicated where the patients were physically being treated.
"The right [process] is to submit both NIK or KTP and domicile [information]. What is used is certainly the domicile data showing where patients are treated," task force spokesperson Wiku Adisasmito told the Post.
"If there's no domicile data then it's treated as if [a patient’s] residence is the same as their address on their KTP. We use KTP data – NIKs, names and addresses – to verify data so there won't be duplicates.”
Wiku said the ministry could be receiving incomplete data from provincial administrations. He said that the task force was working on improving interoperability between national and regional data so that there would not be any discrepancies.
Achmad Yurianto, the ministry's director general for disease control and prevention and former government spokesperson for COVID-19 affairs, insisted that the ministry's data was collected from data submitted by provincial administrations.
"If the provincial administrations have their own [data], please ask them why it isn't the same as the [data they] gave to the central [government]," he told the Post on Thursday.
This is not the first time that such discrepancies have come to light.
In May, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil told a roundtable discussion with foreign ambassadors that the numbers announced by the Health Ministry in daily press conferences, which no longer run now, did not match those reported by his regional administration.
“For example, I reported 30 cases today; the central government put five in the report. I reported seven today, the central government reported 50,” he said on May 11.
Airlangga University epidemiologist Laura Navika Yamani said that data discrepancies did not only exist between Central Java and the central government, but among many other regions, including between East Java and its capital, Surabaya.
Laura said such discrepancies should have already been fixed given that the country was five months into the pandemic, and the fact that this problem persisted had shown a lack of coordination between the state and regions.
"A gap of hundreds in data on fatalities should be questioned. Who are these 200 deceased people?" she said.
With inaccurate data that did not reflect the reality of the pandemic in the country, it was difficult to predict how the situation would unfold, Laura said. As a result, the government would have a hard time coming up with the right policies, she added.
"The public will also be confused by the data. Data discrepancies will cultivate distrust toward the government, making it harder [to implement] policies set forth by the government," she said.
She urged the government to improve its method of tracking cases before drawing any conclusions and making announcements to the public.
The COVID-19 task force said on Aug. 2 that there had been a 28 percent decline in deaths from two weeks prior, with Bengkulu having the highest fatality rate at 8.09 percent, followed by East Java with 7.74 percent and Central Java with 6.73 percent.