Mistakes and delays in the government's statistical management of COVID-19 cases reflect more than just the vulnerability of Puerto Rico's health care strategy.
They also highlight the urgent need to implement initiatives to accurately compile and analyze all the data on public and private efforts in order to address the island's serious challenges with accurate information.
Statistical deficiencies on key indicators of quality of life on the island have been noted for decades. Today they have become a major stumbling block in the efforts to boost economic development and provide optimal services for the entire population.
Countries cannot progress blindly and in the shadows of disinformation and improvisation. Protecting lives becomes an uphill task; curbing poverty is an almost impossible mission; and the equal fulfillment of the rights to education, housing, and food becomes a chimera.
It is highly contradictory for a country with significant budgets in the areas of health and education, for example, to run essential teaching and healthcare services in a state of incapacity. Furthermore, operational deficiencies of the Department of Labor and Human Resources, which is unable to promptly respond to economic assistance claims by thousands of Puerto Ricans who have lost their jobs amid the pandemic, are questionable.
A first step in defeating the information and statistical deficit is to recognize the urgency of undertaking the project of knowing ourselves as a society. This is a task that requires political will and selflessness of the government leadership.
Advancing in the modernization of information systems and statistical processing, and putting them in skilled and committed hands in each of the public agencies must be among the new priorities. Establishing effective communication networks between the government and the different parts of the private sector is also an essential step.
In the case of the Health Department, identifying errors, as well as the willingness to clean up data and improve the processing of COVID-19 statistics, has been a successful effort. And administrative rectification that now allows close collaboration with the experts of the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) has also been a successful effort.
But assertive management is also essential during everyday government management.
Statistical management requires a precise methodology, which begins with uniformity in data collection and continues with rigorous counting and other information processing. Transparency in the disclosure of quantitative and qualitative results is essential in the process of validating documentation.
It is up to the government to ensure accurate methodologies applied to renewed information systems and statistical processing in order to achieve credible projections that justify plans for major projects.
Recent experiences with difficulties with the epidemiological surveillance system show that, with support from the PRIS and through coordination with the Planning Board and the Office of Innovation and Technology Service, a uniform system for the collection of governmental and private data of public interest could be created to measure the indicators that identify the needs and strengths of the island.
In this project, it will be necessary to modernize the structures that in the 21st century still collect information in print or in programs that are incompatible with those of other state agencies. Obstacles such as these arise when explaining delays or inaccuracies in the handling of COVID-19 information by municipal governments or laboratories whose data are not directly recorded by the Department of Health.
It is the government's responsibility to lead the transformation of information systems, to remove the barriers that even obstruct the flow of federal assistance and efforts to develop the island as an investment brand.
The time has come to equip Puerto Rico with the powerful tool of a first-rate statistical structure that will lead to a strengthened Puerto Rican society.