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Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on statistical systems in Africa

2 April, 2020
Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on statistical systems in Africa

Addis Ababa, 2 April 2020 (ECA) -  The African Centre for Statistics (ACS) at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has engaged with directors general of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) in Africa to discuss ways of mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on statistical operations on the continent.

In their first e-meeting, which took place on April 1, 2020, it was noted that the demand for data and statistics to monitor the effects of the pandemic has peaked, although production has been curtailed to protect field workers.

“Data collected through surveys and censuses tend to rely heavily on face to face interviews, which are not possible with COVID-19 as it causes anxiety among both the fieldworkers and the public,” said Oliver Chinganya, ACS Director.

He pointed out that “2020 is likely to be a year with few reliable national indicators since most of the national statistical programmes are affected by the progressive spread of the COVID-19.”

Statistical operations that are governed by defined periodicity and regularity are also under threat as gaps created during the pandemic will result in missing data.  Technical assistance activities from development partners and planned training have also stopped. 

COVID-19 has also caused delays in the implementation of donor-funded activities and will impact on the programme support cycle and disbursements.

These obstacles notwithstanding, Mr. Chingaya said “COVID-19 may be a blessing in disguise as NSO will seek adaptive methods and solutions, including use of digital technology.”

“NSOs have started implementing business continuity plans consisting of remote working and limited field data collection activities,” he added.

Innovative Data Collection methods

Consumer price index (CPI) data collection is the only statistical operation still going on in some countries. This is only done with selected basket items. In Tunisia, for example,  enumerators only collect data from markets close to their dwelling places and not all products in the CPI basket are covered.

NSOs are now considering enhancing partnerships with other stakeholders, including universities and research institutions to explore deeper ways of making available reliable data for informing policy decisions using non-traditional sources of data.

COVID-19 provides an opportunity for statistical systems to explore ways of harnessing Big Data to produce statistics. Countries are exploring how to use digital technology.

However, most NSO staff do not have the required internet access to facilitate telecommuting during this COVID-19 period. This has affected productivity.

ACS Director, Oliver Chinganya, says the Centre is gathering data on good practices and will play a crucial role, using its convening capacity, to share information to support governments in planning for their censuses and large-scale surveys during the pandemic.


Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826