Doctor warns vs complacency, COVID-19 case underreporting in Zamboanga Sibugay

Antonio Manaytay
Doctor warns vs complacency, COVID-19 case underreporting in Zamboanga Sibugay

FRONTLINERS. Public health frontline workers at the Zamboanga Sibugay Provincial Hospital.

Zamboanga Sibugay Provincial Hospital Facebook page

'The reality is that there is underreporting of COVID-19 infections,' says hospital chief and R.T. Lim municipal health officer Dr. Gabby Batuigas

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, Philippines – While COVID-19 infections are on the decline in Zamboanga Sibugay, a public health doctor warned against complacency in the province.

Zamboanga Sibugay has logged 62 confirmed cases in November, averaging only two COVID-19 cases daily. By the end of November, only 16 cases were active. The province has not recorded cases of COVID-19 for 12 days last month.

But the number could be misleading, said Dr. Gabby Batuigas, chief of the R.T. Lim Family Hospital in R.T. Lim town.

“The reality is that there is underreporting of COVID-19 infections,” said Batuigas, who also serves as the town’s health officer.

Many people in the province, according to him, opted not to go to hospitals when they experienced flu-like symptoms, fearing they would end up on the list of COVID-19 patients.

He said the newly recorded cases were of patients who had sought medical treatment.

“But how about those who preferred self-medication at home without the help of a doctor? That’s the problem public health doctors are confronting,” Batuigas said.

He said the situation in Zamboanga Sibugay remained volatile because the data on the number of COVID-19 cases “don’t show the real picture.”

Batuigas said, “We should be on guard especially with the onset of the holidays.”

Dr. Eric Cabayacruz, president of the Municipal Health Officers (MHOs) of the province, said one challenge would be on how to overcome people’s fear of going to hospitals to seek help.

Cabayacrus said the asymptomatic people don’t get tested because they are worried that they would test positive for COVID-19.

Cabayacruz said he noted that people went to hospitals only when their symptoms worsened and their cases became severe or critical.

Aida Soria, a Zamboanga Sibugay resident, said many of her neighbors with symptoms didn’t go to hospitals anymore.

One reason, she said, was that they worried that if they tested positive, their houses would be locked down.

Another was the prospects of dying and being buried without the benefit of a customary wake, Soria said. –

Antonio Manaytay is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship