More than 5,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 since July 30 have not yet been told their results, and the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) is urging the Department of Health (DOH) to allow it to notify the patients of their condition, Senator Richard Gordon said on Monday, August 17.
Gordon is the chairperson of the PRC.
"Based on the calls, emails, and text messages we receive requesting for their test results, at least one third of over 15,700 positive confirmed cases since July 30 have not been informed yet about their status as confirmed positives, and they may have been dangerously increasing community transmission," Gordon said in a statement.
Besides the risk of their condition worsening, the uninformed patients may be unwittingly transmitting the coronavirus to other people because they do not know that they have it, the senator added.
The PRC conducts an average of 10,000 to 12,000 COVID-19 swab tests every day, or 25% of the Philippines' daily coronavirus tests, Gordon said in a CNN Philippines interview on Monday.
In the current protocol, the PRC directly informs those whose tests yield a negative result, but not those who test positive. The PRC sends a list of both negative and positive test results to the DOH, which notifies the positive patients.
This is because the DOH "is in a better position and is better equipped to enforce government-mandated health and safety protocols." However, the DOH now appears to have lagged in notifying COVID-19 positive patients, Gordon said.
To avoid the "danger" of further viral transmissions, Gordon wrote a letter to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday, urging him to let the PRC directly notify COVID-19 positive patients, too.
"Given the urgency of the situation of more positive confirmed cases in our country each day, PRC finds it imperative that the positive results should be immediately relayed to the patients as soon as results are available in our system," Gordon said in his letter to Duque.
"In the interest of preventing the disease from spreading, which has been a severe problem, we would like to request the DOH to authorize and deputize the PRC in writing to release results to positive patients through our team of volunteer doctors, certified and trained non-doctor professionals, including social workers and volunteers," Gordon added in the letter.
There is no word yet from Gordon whether the DOH has responded to his request.
Asked what could be causing the delay in DOH notifying COVID-19 positive patients, Gordon told CNN Philippines, "Because they are all overwrought, and as we are, we have people getting sick."
He added that 95 PRC personnel have contracted COVID-19.
The PRC has been the government's primary partner in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and now the nongovernmental organization is beginning to feel the strain. Gordon said the government-owned Philippine Health Insurance Corporation or PhilHealth still owes the PRC P700 million, without which the group may be forced to halt COVID-19 testing in Metro Manila.
On Monday, August 17, the DOH reported a total of 164,474 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. The death toll from the disease stood at 2,681, while total recoveries were at 112,759.
Changes in protocol and delays in notifying COVID-19 patients of their positive test results have forced the DOH to occasionally adjust and revise its case count. This has caused doubts among the public and several government officials about the accuracy of the agency's reporting of COVID-19 cases.
Gordon noted that informing people that they tested positive for COVID-19 comes with certain risks. His office cited reports that "acts of desperation" by confirmed patients are "rising at an alarming rate." Some have evaded quarantine and isolation protocols, kept their result a secret, or even resorted to suicide, for fear of the stigma attached to COVID-19. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.