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Evaluation of war-related deaths in Gaza: discrepancies and data quality decline after October 26 evident

On October 26, 2023, the Gaza Ministry of Health (MoH) released comprehensive data on war casualties, showing a demographic shift from predominantly child victims to a higher proportion of adult males and females, alongside notable discrepancies between individually documented cases and overall mortality figures. Despite efforts to maintain data integrity through the central tracking system (CTS), disruptions such as hospital closures have led to a reliance on less robust media monitoring, resulting in a gap between CTS-documented fatalities and the MoH’s broader claims. The detailed data, covering fatalities from October 7, 2023, to January 5, 2024, underscores the challenges in accurately documenting war casualties under extreme conditions and raises questions about the reliability of the MoH’s and Gaza Government Media Office’s reported figures.

After releasing data on almost 7,000 war fatalities on October 26, 2023, the Gaza Ministry of Health (MoH) has now disclosed a more comprehensive list. This dataset exhibits a shift from child  victims to higher proportions of adult males and females but presents troubling inconsistencies between its individually documented cases and overall mortality figures reported by the MoH.

In previous assessments, Professor Daniel Silverman and I recognised the initial dataset’s validity but noted later signs of deteriorating quality. Subsequent revelations suggest the MoH’s data integrity has, indeed, been compromised over time..

The updated evidence indicates the MoH persistently documented fatalities individually even after October, but the effectiveness of the central tracking system (CTS) has waned. This has led to a discrepancy between the precise CTS records and the MoH’s aggregated death tolls. 

My analysis of the CTS data notes a subtle demographic shift – a decline in child fatalities and an increase in deaths among adult men and women. The CTS breakdown is hard to reconcile with figures released by the Gaza Government Media Office (GMO), raising questions about the underlying data collection and reporting methodologies.

The new MoH data file details fatalities from October 7, 2023, to January 5, 2024. However, this substantial file comes with significant limitations: it omits persons missing, trapped, unidentified, those who didn’t pass through hospitals, and casualties from North Gaza after MoH lost contact there – a sign of considerable data quality erosion.

Of the 7,392 new deaths reported, 6,414 include age and sex details. Surprisingly, all victims are identified by ID numbers, suggesting that with access to population records, missing demographic data might be recoverable. This absence likely stems from the extreme conditions under which the data were collated.

On January 5, the MoH reported 22,600 deaths, yet the detailed file accounts for only 14,119 within that period, revealing a stark gap between CTS-documented fatalities and the MoH’s broader claims.

The CTS, reliant on hospital morgue records, has been hampered post-November 2 by hospital closures, primarily in the north. The MoH has tried to address these disruptions through media monitoring but has not transparently communicated its supplementary methods.

Navigating the complexity of media monitoring and morgue records presents challenges, especially in avoiding duplication of reported fatalities. Notably, media monitoring was ostensibly to offset the lack of hospital data from the north – a task simpler than if hospital services were sporadically unavailable across Gaza.

An estimated 8,401 deaths, unaccounted for by the CTS, plausibly occurred in the north between October 27 and January 5. However, the precise methodology by which the MoH’s figure rose to 22,600 remains unclear.

The detailed death composition post-October 26 suggests a demographic pivot from children predominantly toward male adults. Yet, on January 7, the GMO’s announced breakdown – 5,835 men, 7,000 women, and 10,000 children – would be very hard to reach from the CTS baseline. To reconcile the two requires, implausibly, that media monitoring fully identified sexes and child/adult statuses of victims and that roughly 90% of these deaths were of women and children..

In summary, the MoH initially based its death tallies on individual records via the CTS. However, following October 26, the CTS’s reach diminished due to hospital outages, and the MoH attempted to fill these gaps with media surveillance, thereby undermining the robustness of reported totals. Analysis of the CTS suggests a minor demographic shift in mortalities from children to adult men and women. The GMO’s January 7 announcement of death demographics does not seem credible, with an excess of women and children compared to men reported.

The MoH’s strenuous and commendable documentation efforts in a climate of adversity should not go unrecognised. Nonetheless, these efforts appear increasingly detached from the on-the-ground reality, as evidenced by the emerging data discrepancies.