In a one-page statement, IBP national president Domingo Egon Cayosa, along with Philippine Medical Association (PMA) president Jose Santiago Jr. and Philippine College of Surgeons president Jose Antonio Salud, said the pressing demands of public health and safety have outweighed individual rights.
www.ibp.ph/File
Doctors, lawyers urge COVID patients to waive privacy
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - April 6, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and two medical organizations yesterday appealed to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients and persons under investigation (PUI) to waive their right to patient privacy to aid the Department of Health (DOH)’s contact tracing efforts and stem the spread of the disease.

In a one-page statement, IBP national president Domingo Egon Cayosa, along with Philippine Medical Association (PMA) president Jose Santiago Jr. and Philippine College of Surgeons (PCS) president Jose Antonio Salud, said the pressing demands of public health and safety have outweighed individual rights.

“We earnestly request that COVID-19 patients or PUIs voluntarily waive the confidentiality of their medical condition and forthrightly inform those they have been in close contact with; that the government, particularly the DOH, prudently use and promptly share medical information to enable all concerned authorities, institutions and persons to effectively take precautionary and remedial measures,” they said.

With the increasing number of COVID-19 patients seeking treatment or admission in clinics and hospitals, some of whom do not divulge their true condition, they risk infecting these health institutions and their health workers.

It also becomes difficult for government to conduct timely, adequate and complete contact tracing. It would be difficult to determine how many virus carriers may have multiplied because they were not properly tested, quarantined, isolated or treated. 

They added it would only be fair to those who may have had contact with a COVID-19 positive patient or a PUI, that they be informed so they could take precautionary or remedial measures. 

Secretary Menardo Guevarra of the Department of Justice (DOJ) shared the sentiments of the IBP, PMA and PCS, saying there is ethical and legal basis to support COVID-19 patients and PUIs to disclose their true medical condition.

“I strongly support the call of the IBP upon COVID-19 positive individuals and PUIs for the waiver of confidentiality of their medical condition. This will enable other people they have been in close contact with to take the necessary precautions or remedial measures to protect themselves, without having to further burden the DOH with the tedious task of contact-tracing. Both the PMA and the Data Privacy Commission provide the ethical and legal basis for this action in times of public health emergency, and the DOJ affirms its validity,” said Guevarra.

The IBP, PMA and PCS added that being diagnosed with COVID-19 should not be treated as a sin, a crime or a stigma.

“We empathize with the COVID-19 patients, and they and their families should be given support, understanding, compassion and protection. We reiterate our call that they should not be discriminated against. We, however, pray that their tragedy be turned into heroism by their honesty and voluntary waiver of confidentiality of their medical condition for the greater good,” they added.

By disclosing their real medical condition, they would be able to help their own family members, friends, co-workers and others with whom they have been in close contact. 

They also noted that there are existing laws and rules that grant the government sufficient authority and basis to lift the confidentiality of the medical condition of COVID-19 patients and PUIs. 

One legal basis is Section 9 of Republic Act 11332 (Surveillance and Response to Notifiable Diseases, Epidemics and Health Events of Public Health Concern) that warns the public that non-cooperation in times of public health emergencies is illegal.

Even the National Privacy Commission Bulletin No. 3, dated last March 19, states, “The Data Privacy Act of 2012 is an enabler in critical times like this” and that “during this time, it is not only the ‘misuse’ of data that concerns us but also the ‘missed’ use that could have made a difference in containing the disease.”

“We therefore urge the government to promptly provide (with adequate safeguards) to all health institutions, concerned law enforcers, and responsible local authorities the medical data of patients to avoid further infection, facilitate contact tracing, and promptly alert those infected. The present pandemic requires proactive and decisive steps that must be based on facts, science and the law, not on politics, posturing or partiality,” the three organizations said.

DOMINGO EGON CAYOSA INTEGRATED BAR OF THE PHILIPPINES
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