Venezuelans confront COVID-19 without data from the government

March 24, 2020
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

Information about the 2019 novel coronavirus is flying from both reputable and disreputable sources, but Venezuela has been behind on this and other health concerns for the past four years.

The last published government report on public health in Venezuela was in 2017, verified International Fact-Checking Network signatory Cotejo reported. That report looked at data from the previous year and found that both infant and maternal mortality had spiked up 30% and 65% respectively.

The Venezuelan government fired Minister of Health Antonietta Caporale after the publication of that report. There has been no release of public health data since.

       

In the meantime, fact-checkers, nongovernmental organizations and everyday Venezuelans have struggled to cobble together reliable information about outbreaks of measles, malaria and, most recently, COVID-19.

“There is a general lack of statistics. Most of the relevant data is unknown,” said Jeanfreddy Gutiérrez Torres, a fact-checker with Efecto Cocuyo. He said he has had to rely on NGO data, academic research and data journalism techniques to try to get an accurate picture of Venezuela’s public health.

Daniel Acosta, a fact-checker with Cotejo, said his organization also relies on international sources for its fact-checks, but also has tried to pick up where the government left off when it stopped publishing data.

“We even gather and record our own data, we have the number of femicides, for instance. That number was included in the official data for a number of years and then it was not published anymore,” Acosta said.

Both Acosta and Gutiérrez Torres said the government is more of a hindrance than a help. Acosta said the Venezuelan government has restricted internet access to control the flow of information. Gutiérrez Torres said the government has silenced journalists and academics.

On Saturday, national police arrested Venezuelan journalist Darvinson Rojas, who had been reporting on the spread of COVID-19. The Committee to Protect Journalist quoted a local publication that said Rojas had been arrested with his parents, who were later let go. Rojas’ current whereabouts are unknown.

Gutiérrez Torres said this lack of official information is leaving everyday Venezuelans, “worried and doubtful,” and making it difficult for journalists to accurately capture what is going on.

“We are fighting against the spread of disinformation audio and video about the conspiracies … and there’s always many rumors of many more cases here and there,” he said. The rumors have focused on the origin of the virus, and the actual number of infected.

There has even been a disagreement among local officials about the basic facts of the crisis. Gutiérrez Torres reported that several governors have contradicted the national government about the number of cases and where they’re located.

Venezuela saw its first case of coronavirus on March 13, and as of Monday the country’s number of official cases sits at 77.

Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. Reach him at hmantas@poynter.org or on Twitter at @HarrisonMantas.

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