Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of StatsSA. Photo:Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of StatsSA. Photo:Thobile Mathonsi

Archaic record system in use for Covid jabs is worrying

By Opinion Time of article published May 23, 2021

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By Pali Lehohla

BEING over 60 comes with some benefits. On Tuesday, I was one in a group of privileged adults who queued for vaccine. A jab of Pfizer in my left arm and another expected in 20-odd days.

I have written a few articles referencing the contribution of the economist Mariana Mazzucato, who also sits on the Presidential Advisory Panel of South Africa. This I do because of the freshness and the materialist dialectics in her logic. She debunks the madness of a small state and free-market doctrine that often shamelessly usurp the cause of ascendency to a strong economy. Her central thesis is captured in her book, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths.

To a large extent you would bet that Mazzucato was in South Africa studying or implementing its massive decadal innovation from 1867, minus the apartheid system of course.

As I went through the logistics of getting a vaccine a penny dropped and I asked myself the question of the extent to which we could reclaim the glory of being an entrepreneurial state that Mazzucato’s studies suggest.

One would argue that the sequence of strategic decisions (minus the repugnant apartheid) from 1867 to 1970 by the then South African government characterised by first, the discovery of diamonds, second gold and third immediately laying down a rail network, which was followed by massive power generation, fifth the modernisation of agriculture as well as reinventing of the rail line from coal power to electric train, aptly describes what Mazzucato discusses as the entrepreneurial state in her book.

The sad part of her sojourn in the Presidential Economic Advisory Panel though, could be penning the antithesis of her book. Her new book could be Undoing the Entrepreneurial State: The Tragedy of Post-apartheid South Africa.

Back to Pfizer. The administration of the jab followed tight administrative protocols. What was appalling was the archaic processes of record collection and record keeping. Everything was recorded free hand on forms and then captured into a computer.

I went through three procedures where my ID number had to be captured free hand on a form and this was in the same room. The next appointment is scribbled on a Department of Health business card-sized document, also handwritten. Health records are a matter of life and death and their integrity matters.

I thought back on the Independent Electoral Commission, which two-anda-half decades ago introduced what was commonly known as the zip-zip. When you get to a voting district, they scan your ID, and out pops your name which is checked against a pre-printed voters roll compiled by scanning the ID during voter registration.

Online as well is a physical map with your address. The processes access the Department of Home Affairs Population Register. In the election system, except for crossing your name out by pen after you have been identified, there is no manual intervention. That is what makes the elections have high levels of integrity. Why then in matters of health with high volume and high sensitivity use such low-level data integrity systems?

The mantra in Official Statistics and Data Systems is standardise electronically, capture once and reprocess. Both the International Electoral Commission and Statistics SA have high integrity practices on data.

Should the tragedy of reinfection and hospitalisation as happened in the most vaccinated country globally, Seychelles, visit us, then a systems chaos of human tracking and tracing will be the next feature of looting instead of PPE.

Mazzucato will not be wrong to write a new book not only of undoing the entrepreneurial state in post-apartheid South Africa, but another volume titled Post-Apartheid South Africa refusing to learn from post-apartheid entrepreneurial experiences. This is in part our biggest tragedy besides the wanton looting.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of StatsSA. Meet him at www.Pie.org.za and @Palilj01v

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites

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