There is a critical deficiency of publicly available, disaggregated epidemiological data on COVID-19 in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which limits our understanding of the scope and the implications of the pandemic in the Arab context. Standard indicators such as sex-disaggregated COVID-19 incidence and mortality data are available in only 15 and 10 out of 22 Arab countries, respectively, while age-stratified mortality estimates are reported by only 10 countries. Poor surveillance systems, exemplifying decades of underinvestment in public health infrastructure, as well as fragile health systems weakened by political unrest, protracted conflict and forced displacement all contribute to this issue. Members of the Faculty of Health Sciences together with colleagues from the Faculty of Medicine at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, published a commentary in BMJ Global Health entitled “COVID-19 in the Middle East and North Africa region: an urgent call for reliable, disaggregated and openly shared data". The paper offers a comprehensive review of the COVID-19-related disaggregated indicators available within each of the 22 Arab states and analyzes the unique factors limiting data accessibility during pandemics in the region. Finally, the authors provide pragmatic recommendations to address these knowledge gaps, arguing that comprehensive, accessible data is essential in order to develop a context-informed response to this current public health crisis, which includes mass vaccination initiatives.
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