UP experts flag gaps in DOH coronavirus data

Sofia Tomacruz
UP experts flag gaps in DOH coronavirus data
If left unresolved, the lack of accurate and accessible data can undermine efforts to contain the spread of the virus, say the experts, who now work closely with the health department

MANILA, Philippines – Experts from the University of the Philippines called on the Department of Health (DOH) to provide accurate and timely data on the coronavirus outbreak, warning that significant backlogs and missing data on the location of some cases could undermine efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

“We exhort the Department of Health to urgently resolve issues regarding the accuracy and timeliness of its data on COVID-19 cases in the country,” said mathematics professor Guido David, political science professor Ranjit Singh Rye, and Maria Patricia Agbulos – fellows of the OCTA research group of experts – in a study published on Thursday, June 11.

“If not urgently resolved, these significant and continuing challenges regarding DOH COVID-19 data will undermine not just the government’s ability to monitor the spread of the virus but also hamper its ability to implement appropriate and timely responses to manage the pandemic on the ground,” they added. 

What needs to be addressed: According to the group, which has been monitoring DOH data over since March 1, a “significant backlog” of 6,359 unvalidated tests remained while 1,855 cases were “uncategorized” in the department’s database. 

The backlog of unvalidated tests make up the difference between the number of individuals who tested positive, based on the reports from testing centers, and the official number of confirmed cases in the Philippines. The DOH earlier said it still needed to validate some 6,800 tests

Uncategorized cases were those whose regions or residences were not indicated.

“Without accurate and accessible DOH data on COVID-19, our national and local government officials as well as other stakeholders will not be able to make decisions crucial to managing the pandemic,” they warned.  

Like the UP group, infectious diseases and clinical pharmacology expert Dr Benjamin Co raised concerns with the “bothersome” lack of data on locations for a number of cases, citing the DOH’s clumping of new cases as “other” areas if not in Metro Manila or Central Visayas.  

“The data coming in from the ‘other’ areas are bothersome because they now comprise the bulk of cases in the Philippines, and the locality of these cases need to be identified. Seriously, if you don’t know where these cases are from, how can you even do contact tracing properly?” he said. 

What the DOH is doing. Over the last few weeks, the DOH has been working to clear the backlog of results, leading to the classification of new reported cases as either “fresh” cases (results validated and given to patients in the last 3 days) or “late” cases (results given to patients 4 days or more ago but only validated recently).

The group recognized DOH efforts to address issues with data, which it planned to resolve through its “COVID-KAYA” platform – a new case and contact tracing system for those closely observing and handling data such as epidemiology and surveillance officers, health care providers, and “laboratory-based users.”

The UP experts, who now work closely with the DOH, urged the department to fast-track this platform “to improve data management, quality, and access, which is crucial for decision-making during the pandemic.” – Rappler.com 

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.