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FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

DOH needs to be transparent

If we go by the numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths, the Philippines appears to be doing well compared to many of the rich countries in the world.

The Department of Health (DOH) reported that our country only has 4,648 confirmed cases and 297 deaths as of April 12. In contrast, the grim figures as of April 11 from some of the wealthy nations were as follows: Italy, 147,577 cases and 18,851 deaths; Spain, 157,022 cases and 15,843 deaths; United States 461,275 cases and 16,596 deaths; France, 89,683 cases and 13,179 deaths; United Kingdom 70,276 cases and 8,958 deaths; and Germany 117,658 cases and 2,544 deaths. (World Health Organization)

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Do we really have fewer infections and deaths? Do we have lesser risk of getting the virus? In truth, we have no way of knowing, because the DOH numbers are misleading and deceiving.

The reason we have comparatively low numbers is because we are conducting far fewer tests. As of April 4, the total number of people tested in our country was 4,568 (latest available data). Compare that to the number of people tested in these countries: United States 2,528,725 (April 10); Germany 1,317,887 (April 5); Italy 963,473 (April 11); South Korea 510,479 (April 11); France 333,807 (April 7); United Kingdom 269,598 (April 11); Vietnam 121,821 (April 11); and Malaysia 71,897 (April 11). (ourworldindata.org)

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OPINION

Instead of revealing the number of persons tested, what the DOH has been reporting is the number of tests conducted, inclusive of the repeat tests for certain individuals. On April 6, for instance, the DOH stated that a total of 22,958 tests have been made in our country. As to how many repeat tests were involved, the DOH did not say. In many cases, patients are tested as many as three times in order to monitor their recovery or deterioration.

The DOH’s practice of merely reporting the number of tests conducted, and not the number of persons tested, does not arm the public with useful information. It’s only meant to advertise the accomplishments of the DOH. In so doing, the DOH misleads the public and policymakers on the gravity of the contagion.

During President Duterte’s April 9 press conference, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III boasted that we have one of the lowest rates of infection globally, noting that our country’s rate of infection is only two persons for every one million of our population. But given the brazen inadequacy of the data he uses, Duque does a huge disservice to our country by presenting such a false picture.

The number of tests relied upon by Duque is also untrustworthy because the tests are done mostly on patients already with severe symptoms. There is no sampling gathered to get a sense of the people who are asymptomatic, or those who have mild symptoms who are advised to merely stay and recover at home. These people continue to spread the virus.

Duque also gave our country a false sense of security by relying for so many weeks purely on laboratory-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, even going to the extent of discouraging and causing a huge delay in the use of the cheaper and faster rapid test kits which developed countries have been using widely. This is the case even if our country only has eight hospitals at present with a combined daily capacity to do 1,750 PCR tests. Even top-quality hospitals like

St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City, Makati Medical Center, Asian Hospital, and Medical City still do not have approved laboratories with PCR test capabilities. In fact, St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City and the Lung Center got their accreditation to do PCR tests only a few days ago. We can only imagine how much longer it will take for the 40-60 hospitals that the DOH is relying on to get PCR test capabilities.

Even if our country is able to manufacture tens of millions of the test kit developed by the University of the Philippines, all those kits will have to line up as if in an embudo (funnel) when they go through the limited PCR-capable laboratories that we have.

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We are a poor country exposed to the great risks of the COVID-19 pandemic. The harmful consequences of our poverty will only become worse if we are misled into believing that we are better off and have lesser risks compared to richer countries.

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For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, DoH, Flea Market of Ideas, Francisco Duque III, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, Rodrigo Duterte
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