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  • The San Juan Daily Star

IEPR: Delays in vital statistics reports hinder new knowledge on health issues


In response to questions from Rep. Luis Ortiz Lugo, chairman of the House Emergency Preparedness, Reconstruction and Reorganization Committee, a Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics official said the lack of vital data could affect the development of new socioeconomic and epidemiological studies on the island.


By THE STAR STAFF


Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (IEPR by its Spanish initials) Director Orville M. Disdier Flores charged Thursday that the island Health Department has failed to produce annual vital statistics reports, hindering new knowledge on socioeconomic and health issues associated with the population.


The IEPR demanded on Jan. 10, through a letter addressed to Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López, the delivery of the annual reports of vital statistics corresponding to each calendar year of the period 2017-2020.


“Currently, the only information coming to the Institute is preliminary death registry data. … Since 2016, we have not received vital statistics on mortality, births, marriages, and divorces in Puerto Rico,” Disdier Flores said. “We have demanded multiple times that Health produce that information immediately. We believe that the delay is unacceptable because not having this vital information could affect the economy, social composition and strategic planning.”


In response to questions from Rep. Luis R. Ortiz Lugo, chairman of the House Emergency Preparedness, Reconstruction and Reorganization Committee, IEPR senior manager Alberto Velázquez Estrada added that the lack of vital data could affect the development of new socioeconomic and epidemiological studies on the island.


Disdier Flores said his agency received on Nov. 2, 2022 from the Department of Health incomplete responses to the requested data related to vital statistics for the aforementioned period. In the most recent letter sent, which was signed by the executive director, the IEPR pointed out that “if the information required here is not provided, the Institute may go to the competent courts or forums to enforce Act No. 209 and the Regulations.”


During the public hearing, Ortiz Lugo asked Health Department staff about the problems affecting the production of vital data. Jonathan Morales González, an adviser on vital statistics and demographic affairs at the Department of Health’s Assistant Secretariat for Planning and Development, stressed that the main problem is a lack of personnel.


“Right now, I’m the only demographer in the office,” he said.


Meanwhile, agencies supported with amendments the creation of new protocols to determine deaths related to catastrophic events.


Senate Bill 524, which seeks to create the “Law on the Protocol for the Determination of the Cause and Manner of Deaths Related to Natural Disasters or Catastrophic Events,” was also addressed in a public hearing.


The Institute of Forensic Sciences (ICF) and the IEPR, as well as the departments of Health and Public Safety, presented papers suggesting several changes to the legislation under consideration.


ICF Director María S. Conte Miller argued that the text should undergo amendments to clarify the scope of the proposed form to evaluate and classify cases of death by factors related to natural events and catastrophes.


At the same time, Conte Miller stressed that the form proposed by the bill, “duly amended,” will allow reliable statistical data for the adoption of public policies or measures that will be used prospectively.


“That’s a step forward and in the right direction,” she said.


The Health Department also expressed concern about paragraph c of Article 4 of the bill, which would establish that the doctor will send the patient’s file to the ICF for analysis.


“The question arises whether, in fact, this paragraph refers to all deaths, that is, natural and unnatural deaths, that occur during an emergency declaration,” the agency noted.


“If so, this measure must be accompanied by guidelines for implementation and allocation of the estimated budget, because when being sent to the Institute of Forensic Sciences for analysis, any death that occurs during an emergency may be limited between the number of pending cases and their resources,” said the presentation signed by Mellado López. “At any time, this could create a delay in the data that must be reported to the Demographic Registry.”

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