DOH claims small victory vs COVID
In a press conference, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the country’s response against COVID-19 is gaining ground, based on three indicators: the deaths or case fatality rate, case doubling time and critical care utilization rate.
PCOO, file

DOH claims small victory vs COVID

Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - June 2, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) yesterday said it had achieved a “small victory” in the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

In a press conference, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the country’s response against COVID-19 is gaining ground, based on three indicators: the deaths or case fatality rate (CFR), case doubling time and critical care utilization rate.

“Fewer people are dying of COVID-19… The case doubling time is also getting longer in the country. And because we were able to bring down (these indicators), it means a small victory for us,” Vergeire said.

She noted that the downward trend shows that the “health system now has enough time to breathe” as indicators “provide a clearer picture of the COVID-19 situation in the country.”

Yesterday, the DOH reported that the number of confirmed cases soared to 18,638 with 552 new cases recorded. Of the new cases, 119 are “fresh cases” while 433 are “late cases.”

The number of fatalities rose to 960, with three new deaths reported, while the number of recoveries reached 3,979 with 70 patients overcoming the virus.

Vergeire said mortality from COVID-19 has been declining since late March, indicating that the healthcare sector’s treatment of the illness “has been progressively improving.”

On the other hand, the case doubling time of three to four days in the past months has been prolonged to the current 6.29 days in Metro Manila.

Vergeire said the critical utilization rate has not been maximized, indicating that the health system is not yet overwhelmed.

The critical care utilization rate is a figure that indicates the capacity of the healthcare system to handle severe cases, as seen in how much of the intensive care (ICU) facilities is used and how much is available for use.

DOH data show that 34 percent of ICU beds are unoccupied while 18 percent of mechanical ventilators are available.

Senators fear underreporting

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon questioned yesterday the basis of the DOH for disaggregating cases in the reporting of confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 patients even as he expressed fears the agency may have been underreporting COVID-19 cases all along.

“What is the basis for disaggregating cases and how does that affect our interpretation of flattening of the curve? Has the inter-agency task force (IATF) considered these figures in its decision to shift to general community quarantine (GCQ)?” Drilon asked in a statement.

He said there are several complaints not only from the public but also from laboratories themselves who are confused with the new classification of cases into “fresh” and “late” cases.

DOH reported on Sunday 862 new infections, 16 fresh cases and 846 late cases bringing the total to 18,086.

“If the DOH could not provide logical explanations for this, except for putting the blame on laboratories, then there is a reason to believe that it is underreporting COVID-19 cases. That is not only counterproductive because hiding the real data could be fatal,” he said.

The senator cited the differences between the way South Korea and China reported their COVID-19 cases. He said the government may learn a thing or two about transparency in the way South Korea and China handle the pandemic.

“The experiences all over the world show that a great deal of transparency spells a huge difference in winning the battle against this pandemic. They likewise tell us that hiding the truth would only make things worse,” Drilon said.

He said South Korea has showed transparency since Day One, not hiding the real data from their people.

South Korea dealt with the pandemic with complete transparency and because of this, coupled with its government’s decisiveness, the country was able to contain the dreaded virus.

“On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the China experience has shown that the lack of transparency could be fatal. Honesty is the best policy here. Manipulating the data will not bring us anywhere,” he said.

He lamented it is becoming a habit of the DOH to use hospitals and laboratories as “scapegoats” whenever it is criticized for its shortcomings.

He said it is unfair for hospitals and laboratories to always take the blame for DOH.

“They are being thrown under the bus. The DOH claims that the laboratories report to them late, but I have received reports that their turnaround time is actually good,” Drilon said.

“Where is the bottleneck in the reporting of cases that results in ‘late’ cases? Is it really the laboratories reporting late or DOH unable to validate the cases in a timely manner,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III pressed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to temporarily set aside the planned hiring of contact tracers as an added measure to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Sotto said the DOH should instead use the P11.7-billion budget for the hiring of 130,000 contact tracers for the treatment of persons afflicted with COVID-19.

“It will be wiser and more practical to divert the P11.7 billion for the treatment of patients. We need funds to treat our sick countrymen. It’s more important to use this fund to buy medicines and medical equipment to help heal our patients,” he said.

“What I am suggesting is for the DOH to be more prudent on how the country’s funds are being used. But of course, the decision is still with the President,” he said.

He expressed concerns that the multibillion funding could go to waste and noted that this will be spent on people who are not trained for the job.

He said the DOH contact tracing can only be effective if the people are trained in investigation.

If the DOH hires people who have no experience in investigation, then the program is practically useless, he said.

“The people they will hire will just ask black and white questions and get answers that will not yield the needed information to help the government track down people who might have been contaminated by the virus,” Sotto said.

DOH assures transparency

A DOH official gave assurance yesterday that it has been transparent with coronavirus disease data and department records have been open to public scrutiny.

In a press conference, Undersecretary Vergeire noted the agency has been open with its data which are even accessible in data-drop, website and other platforms.

“We have been transparent with our data from the very start.  You can see everything that we do, we have an open system – the data drop, where in the public can see our data,” she added.

The official has made the assurance as some legislators are questioning the new format of the DOH daily bulletin for COVID-19 which now shows a rising trend in the number of confirmed cases.

But according to Vergeire, the rise in cases is due to the automation of their system with the use of COVID-KAYA, an application that automates the data collection platform from testing laboratories to DOH for validation of the findings.

“We now have this application, the COVID-KAYA where all of our facilities will be using this so that we can hasten and we can minimize delays in the passing on or reporting system across our facilities to DOH,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Philippines’ National Privacy Commission (NPC) has been tapped to lead a newly formed global task force on personal data protection and privacy in a post-COVD-19 global landscape.

The Global Privacy Assembly had tapped the NPC and its commissioner, Raymund Liboro, to head the COVID-19 Task Force that has been instituted to guide 134 jurisdictions around the world in enabling effective government response to the pandemic while continuing to protect citizens’ personal data and privacy.

Liboro said the NPC was ready to take on the challenge of heading the task force with “a bias for action, and a bias for collaboration with the 134 privacy authorities.” Paolo Romero, Rainier Allan Ronda

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