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The story behind Muslim COVID-19 data

The story behind Muslim COVID-19 data
September 1, 2020
September 1, 2020 September 1, 2020

MAHMOOD SANGLAY

Did you know that there are records of Muslims killed in Auschwitz during the Holocaust? We are generally familiar with the record of 313 Muslims who battled the Quraish at Badr (on Ramadaan 17, 2 AH) and that 14 of them were martyred.

The narratives of these two independent historic records have one thing in common: the collection and preservation of data. Muslim Stats SA (MSSA), launched in March this year, references these two disparate historic events in their informal manifesto, which motivates the collection of data on Muslim deaths due to COVID-19.

MSSA is in the process of registering as an NPO and is part of a team of specialists collecting and interpreting the data on Muslim COVID-19 deaths.

According to Mohammed Wadee, managing director of MSSA, the great lesson we derive from the records of Badr and the Holocaust is that data collection and preservation is a vital function, especially at historic moments such as the current pandemic.

This is the reason for their mission of dedicating resources to collecting data on Muslim COVID-19 statistics.

Among the team of ten specialists is Dr Zameer Brey, a health systems analyst who released a presentation on social media of data collected as at July 10 (week 18 of the pandemic since lockdown in March).

In this presentation, he interprets the data on behalf of the group comprising specialists in public health, travel medicine, infectious diseases, family physiology and quantitative analysis.

The key finding of the group is that Muslims appear to reflect a higher rate of increase in death due to COVID-19 than the general population in South Africa, with a death toll of 353 as at July 10.

Muslims are less than two per cent of the South African population but make up eight to nine per cent of the COVID-19 deaths. Other findings are that Muslim males account for 68 per cent of the deaths as opposed to Muslim females.

There are a number of reasons for these findings, according to the group, namely that the Muslims in South Africa could have more co-morbid diseases, like diabetes, hypertension, heart and kidney disease. These diseases are proven to increase the risk of death from COVID-19.

Another is that there could be more elderly people in the Muslim community compared to the general population (another known risk factor for death due to COVID-19) and that Muslims are at greater risk due to cultural and social norms, like socialising over meals, attending weddings, funerals and religious gatherings, like congregational prayers.

These findings, says the group, are a cause for concern.

But how confident is the group that the disproportionate eight to nine per cent Muslim fatalities of the South African total COVID-19 fatalities is an accurate reflection of reality?

According to Dr Muzzammil Ismail, a public health registrar, the findings of the group is based on their ‘best understanding under the constraints of COVID-19 data collection and reporting’.

There may be undercounts in respect of both the Muslim as well as the national number of fatalities. However, the team says these are their ‘best estimates of the impact on the Muslim community’. Ismail adds that this is consistent with the ‘differing population pyramid between the Muslim community and the rest of the country’.

MSSA has since released fresh data, and as at Monday, August 10, the Muslim death toll in South Africa due to COVID-19 had risen to 751, which is a 112,7 per cent increase in the 353 interpreted by the group.*

According to another expert on the group, Dr Yasmin Goga, this can be attributed to the higher levels of co-morbidities, a possible higher number of elderly than outside the Muslim community and the lack of adherence to safety protocols, such as physical distancing and masking.

Goga added that the celebration of Eid-ul-Adha may also have led to a further relaxation of these protocols, thus increasing the risk.

These factors collectively contribute to increased ‘lockdown fatigue’ as the yearning for socialisation intensifies.

Goga says that Gauteng and KZN are currently seeing an increasing number of cases, and that the peak for these provinces is predicted for August through September.

A noteworthy change, however, is that the latest data reflects a progressive decline in the proportion of Muslim fatalities in relation to that of the general population in South Africa. The original eight to nine per cent now stands at 6,27 per cent.

Wadee attributes this decline to a higher rate of fatalities recorded in the general population, and not to a decline in the number of Muslim fatalities per se.

The group notes that South Africa currently reflects the fifth highest number of infections in the world. They urge all South Africans to maintain vigilance, observe physical distancing and masking, and refrain from attending social gatherings.

And they appeal for adherence to mandatory measures like physical distancing, masking and restricted numbers of attendees at funerals and congregational prayers.

A final appeal from the team of experts to everyone is to refrain from stigmatising others, and to disclose one’s positive or high-risk status in the interest of public health.

* According to data released by Muslim Stats SA on August 31, the Muslim death toll due to COVID-19 stood at 831.

Featured image: The table reflects the Muslim fatalities as a result of COVID-19 until the end of August 2020. (Graphic: Muslim Stats SA)

This article was first published in the August 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.

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