COVID-19

Belmonte says incomplete patients’ info from DOH hindering contact tracing efforts

Pia Ranada
Belmonte says incomplete patients’ info from DOH hindering contact tracing efforts

Joy Belmonte speaks

Joy Belmonte Facebook

'We appeal to your good office as Secretary of Health to set the vision and direction in improving data quality for rapid contact tracing,' the Quezon City chief writes to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte called on the Department of Health (DOH) to immediately make available to local governments important information of COVID-19 cases to make contact tracing easier and more efficient.

Belmonte, who leads the Philippine city with the highest number of coronavirus cases, said the lack of information on addresses and contact numbers of COVID-19 cases in data provided by the DOH is severely hampering her government’s tracing efforts.

The mayor wrote to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on August 4 to say “the agency’s failure to provide complete information in some cases delays contact tracing by days and forces frontliners to spend valuable time looking for the needed information from other possible sources including social media,” according to a QC press statement.

“We appeal to your good office as Secretary of Health to set the vision and direction in improving data quality for rapid contact tracing,” Belmonte told Duque.

Waste of time, resources

Because of the insufficient information from DOH, the city has had to coordinate with disease reporting units, laboratories, and even down to the hospitals to ask for information that COVID-19 cases had long been asked to provide to these very same institutions.

Belmonte cited as an example data on new Quezon City cases on August 3 which the DOH reported through its COVID Kaya online platform.

Of the 1,224 new cases, 47% or almost half, had no addresses or contact numbers.

This made it extra difficult for QC’s City Epidemiological Surveillance Unit (CESU) to track down the patients and begin tracing the people they were exposed to.

In the case of 35 patients, the DOH did not indicate which hospitals or laboratories conducted their reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.

Another DOH data problem

The gaps in information mean local governments’ contact tracing resources are not maximized. The country’s contact tracing arsenal is still far from ideal, as pointed out by testing czar and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong himself.

He has said that only around 8 contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case are reached, on average, by authorities. Out of 600 local government units who responded to a survey he had sent out, only 4 were found to have sufficient contact tracing capability.

QC is trying to build up its own resources, saying it now has 700 contact tracers and recently procured a fleet of 15 vehicles for their use.

The largest city in Philippine virus epicenter Metro Manila, QC now has 12,583 cases, according to DOH’s COVID-19 tracker. Over half, 6,732, are active cases.

The DOH has constantly faced criticisms for its coronavirus data reporting. Duque has promised improvements and appealed for the public’s understanding. – Rappler.com


Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.