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PRC is right to call out DoH as causing spread of Covid-19

By The Manila Times/The Manila Times

IN a bold statement last week, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) blamed the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) on the slow action of the Department of Health (DoH) to validate test results and inform patients who have tested positive. Having an institution or authority that will call out the DoH for its poor data handling and will actually be listened to by the Health department is perhaps one of the most encouraging developments yet in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

In its statement, the PRC said that according to its data, at least one-third, or more than 5,000 of over 15,700 confirmed cases since July 30, have not yet been informed of their positive status, which means these patients are very likely unwittingly spreading the coronavirus infection throughout their communities.

The reason for the delay in the release of test results is because of the insistence by the DoH that it first validate the results before these are released to patients. While it is important that data on the extent and spread of Covid-19 is centralized to some degree, the DoH’s obvious inability to process data quickly and efficiently has led to information bottlenecks, with the predictable results noted by the PRC.

The PRC is in an authoritative position to inform the public on the matter, as it is responsible for the biggest share of all the Covid-19 testing currently being done in the Philippines. The PRC currently has at least six active testing laboratories capable of processing up to 42,000 test samples per day and is finishing construction and preparing to activate at least seven more in different parts of the country.

Since June, the DoH’s number of cumulative validated positive results has consistently lagged behind the cumulative number of reported positive results by 30,000 to 40,000 individual cases, according to the Health department’s own publicly disclosed data. It did announce that the backlog in test samples waiting for processing had been eliminated — that number was about 6,300 in the middle of last week — but the validation process, and hence the informing of patients of their condition, which would allow them to isolate themselves or seek necessary treatment quickly, has not yet speeded up.

Whether this state of affairs is attributable to a lack of urgency and commitment within the DoH or a lack of competence and capacity, the outcome is the same: it thoroughly undermines the government’s strategy of making the population primarily responsible for halting the spread of Covid-19 by observing safety protocols and proper isolation of infected people.

To its credit, the DoH has responded positively to the PRC statement and agreed to a partial solution to the information logjam it has created. According to the PRC statement, the Health department has authorized the PRC to release positive test results to patients immediately after their transmittal to the DoH so that patients need not wait days or weeks to learn that they are infected with Covid-19.

This scheme will allow the PRC to offer medical consultation and referral to positive cases immediately, improving their chances of recovery and preventing the unintentional spread of the coronavirus to one’s household or neighborhood. At the same time, the DoH will be able to begin the necessary surveillance and monitoring of positive cases.

The arrangement is noteworthy progress to resolve the lingering problem of information delays, but it should not stop with the PRC because although the PRC is the largest single Covid-19 tester, at present it only accounts for about 22 percent of all tests conducted. Similar arrangements to speed up communication of test results need to be made with all organizations and laboratories carrying out Covid-19 testing, private facilities as well as those operated by the government.

And it needs to be done quickly; even with current lockdown restrictions in place, each positive patient that “falls through the cracks” and is allowed to unknowingly spread the coronavirus for a period of time before being informed of his or her condition simply adds to the pandemic, which so far has eluded most attempts by the government to control it.


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