The hidden deaths from covid-19 in the Northern Triangle of Central America

Country/area: El Salvador

Organisation: elperiodico.com.gt, elsalvador.com, criterio.hn

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 07/06/2021

Credit: Evelin Vásquez, Karla Arévalo, Saraí Alvaro


Evelin Vásquez is a journalist and communicator. He grew up in Guatemala City, where he resides. She works for the newspaper elPeriódico. Its main sources of coverage are politics, security and government. She has focused her professional career on research and content generation in health, food safety, education, housing, migration, transportation and tourism.

Karla Arevalo is a data journalist in the Data Unit of El Diario de Hoy in El Salvador. She writes reports about homicidal violence and environment. She works with open data or request information through the Law of Access to Public Information. In addition to cleaning, analyzing and disseminating these stories, she also uses different formats and tools to present the stories to readers.

Saraí Alvarado is an investigative journalist in Honduras, with more than 14 years of experience in the written press, she has covered all journalistic sources: Police, Judicial, Presidential House, Politics, State comptroller bodies, Non-Governmental Organizations (Civil Society), but her specialty lies in the area of ​​investigative and in-depth reports that refer to issues of Human Rights, violence and death against Women, Children, Common – Organized Crime and impunity in criminal cases.

Evelin, Karla and Saraí are fellowships of the International Women’s Media Fundation (IWMF) that supported this research.

In the case of Karla Arévalo, the research was also supported and advised by the Big Local News Initiative of Stanford University.

Project description:

Three Central American media present a joint investigation on the underreporting of deaths from COVID-19 in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Three female journalists looked for alternative sources to contrast the non-transparent information from the governments of their countries on deaths from COVID-19 or related to this disease.

The investigation revealed that the pandemic, in addition to causing thousands of deaths, has exposed the bureaucracy that in Guatemala makes it difficult to register and disseminate the number of deaths promptly; the disorder that reigns in Honduras in this regard and the opacity in the official COVID-19 data in El Salvador.

Impact reached:

The data collection demonstrated the precariousness of the health systems of the three countries, where the biosafety protocols for burials are not complied with, there are no government entities with agile and efficient procedures to identify those who have died from COVID-19, there is a shortage of supplies for hospital care and a health staff that works with very few resources.

The reporting  “Coronavirus deaths outside El Salvador hospitals”, with the results for this country, 
was one of the most read in elsalvador.com last year with 23.574 viewed pages.

Techniques/technologies used:

The team of journalists was in three different countries, so Google Meet was used to have regular meetings and a WhatsApp group was created to coordinate these meetings, agree on approaches and publication dates.

The team used Google Drive to share the data of each country with the rest of the team, clean and organize them. We then used Excel and Tableau Public to analyze them and Flourish and Infogram to visualize them.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of the job was getting the data, because in each country the official data management is different. In El Salvador, for example, it was possible to obtain us only by visiting 11 municipalities selected from among the 15 with the most diagnosed cases of covid-19. In Honduras, the data were provided by the funeral home association and in Guatemala by the National Registry of Persons (RENAP). 

For this reason, it was not possible to do an analysis by region, but rather for each country.

What can others learn from this project?

What other journalists can learn from this project is, first of all, how to do collaborative journalism when countries have mobility restrictions due to a pandemic and not die trying. Second, how to do data research in countries that share problems, but where data management is totally different.

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