Is our data accurate?
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - May 25, 2020 - 12:00am

How can we get accurate data from our mano mano ways? Hidden behind the numbers we see in the news is probably an avalanche of more Covid-19 infections and deaths. Everyday we hear deaths caused by heart attacks, cancer, kidney problems and heat strokes. If they are Covid-19 related, are they part of the count? What if hospitals or even families do not want to admit that they have Covid-19 related deaths? Is this possible? How strict and accurate are we?

Gathering data is important. In disaster risk reduction, it is called site profile using data analytics. Without this you do not have basis for correct decisions. These data are used for making hazards-specific, time-bound warnings. Efficient data is crucial for decision makers to understand the problem and find appropriate solutions. How do the DOH and IATF gather their data?

While numbers seem to point to the “flattening of the curve”, we still must be careful in making far-reaching conclusions. We should realize by now that the DOH data is limited by the management of information from testing on the ground to laboratories. As it is, DOH needs to work double time in testing. To date, the DOH data shows that 244,800 have been tested. The government is aiming to test a total of 2 million Filipinos with a target goal of increasing the country’s testing capacity to 50,000 COVID-19 tests per day by June. According to Philippine Red Cross Chairman Senator Richard Gordon, the advice of the WHO is to test 13 percent of Manila which means 1.6 million people. To target the whole country that is 14.2 million.

In the gathering of data, it is a fact that there are limitations to the DOH data because not all hospitals and health institutions are able to report their testing results in a timely or accurate manner. Their initial data only rely on hospital reports disregarding deaths at home or in smaller clinics. The sad fact is that decisions are made quickly based on the available data.

Secretary Duque who leads us in health-related data and concerns holds a very delicate position. He must be very careful when using terms, reporting data, and giving directives. Last week, he confused us by saying that a second wave is happening. Covid-19 is experienced around the world. There is universal definition of terms used during this pandemic. One of them is the use of the term ‘wave’ to depict the rise and fall of cases in graphs. Since March, we really have not seen the first peak of the wave go down (or experienced a deep trough). So, the statement is quite confusing and misleading.

Sowing more fear and panic to an already confused, anxious, worried, desperate populace, is not a joke. This even caught Malacañang by surprise. Damage control was immediately done. The Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was again there to the rescue. But what did this impress upon the people? Inefficiency.

There is way too much damage caused by ignorance and incompetence in government. Are we really handling this Covid crisis well? On data gathering, no. On Health Care, we have a very poor system. On testing, we have not reached a significant number yet. You decide.

Every country has its own way of handling this virus. What about us? Are we just copycats? Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, and Australia have taken advantage of their cultural norms in fighting this crisis. The Macau government during its lockdown was able to prepare a Covid-19 safe environment. They also restricted non-residents from entering especially after a Covid-19 imported case from Portugal entered. Today, people in Macau can work and eat in restaurants following Covid-19 protocols. They wear a mask and wash their hands and change when they get home. They can use public transportation as well. Since the lockdown was lifted no Covid cases have been reported.

What about our plan of action? Is government going to continue extending the quarantine without solid actions to fight the crisis? How can we curtail the problem?

First, we need to find a better way of gathering data. What about contact tracing? Is it IATF’s role to give out the official data? Do they really know or have the facts? Do they have real-time data? If they do, how do they gather them? Their data only seem to come from reported cases from hospitals. What about those in the rural areas or data from unreported cases?

Second, everyone is talking and confusing the public. Who should be making major critical announcements or advisories to the public on Covid-19? Does the health secretary have the power to make pronouncements without thorough discussion and deliberation among the IATF members? Isn’t it the work of the IATF chair to inform the president of the current situation about Covid-19 and for the president to make official announcements? What is the protocol?

Third, how will you know what you do not know? How can you decide without having real hard evidence? Nobody can get the facts straight. No one seems to know what to do. Everyone just keeps on talking and yacking about it. This seems to be the reason why the IATF continue to extend the ECQ, MECQ and GCQ? If this is a war, we would have already lost the fight. Worse, we may be into a very, very long lockdown.

The Philippines has 13,777 cases, 863 deaths, 3,177 recovered as of May 23 (from the Worldometer’s COVID data). Our recovery rate is very low at 22% compared to other ASEAN countries. Our mortality rate was 6.5% (almost 45 times worst than other Asian countries) while others like Singapore at 0.01%, South Korea 2% and Australia at 1.5% are less. What does this tell us? Our health care system is very weak. We need to get better recovery rates and lessen the mortality rate. It also cautions us that we are not ready in case infection rates suddenly increase when the quarantine period is fully lifted. Very strong Covid protocol measures must be created and strictly implemented. Everyone must conform to the new norm. 

To date, there are 5,105,881 confirmed cases, 333,446 confirmed deaths according to WHO as of May 23. CNA Asia (Channel News Asia) reports 5,309,440 confirmed cases, 337,976 deaths, 2,043,648 recovered cases as of May 24. When you click the DOH COVID 19 Case Tracker, you will always find it unavailable due to technical unexpected errors. Here lies the problem. It is the root of all problems. We have low-tech access to public data. Our mano mano system seems to be our only recourse of action. Sanamagan!

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