There is no underreporting in the status of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) nor hiding of significant information even as the Department of Health (DOH) raised its alert system to Code Red sublevel 1 after confirmation of localized transmission, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Sunday.
Duque rejected accusations that the DOH has been concealing some significant information about COVID-19.
COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019.
“They are saying, there’s underreporting. Remember that the DOH also has its limitations,” said Duque.
Duque also said the DOH should not be blamed for seemingly hiding information in the case of Cardinal Santos Medical Center (CSMC) in Greenhills, San Juan.
“That was not our intention. We won’t benefit from doing that, but it was (CSMC) that made the request,” said Duque as he noted that CSMC requested the DOH not to identify their institution, fearing stigma.
The fifth confirmed victim of coronavirus was initially admitted at CSMC before he was transferred to Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City.
The health chief disclosed that CSMC asked his department not to mention the institution in their reporting of the specifics regarding the 5th confirmed case only to find out later they defied their own request.
In a statement, CSMC said that they initially “took care” of the country’s 5th confirmed case – the 62-year-old Filipino who has no history of travel abroad. His wife, who was also sent to RITM, became the 6th confirmed case of the virus.
On Saturday, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the DOH “may be underreporting” the number of novel coronavirus cases hours after Duque confirmed the 6th case of the disease raised Code Red alert status in the country.
“Do we have enough testers to cover a decent number of our population, especially in the more vulnerable areas of the country? If no, the DOH may be underreporting, albeit unintentionally,” Lacson said in a statement.
The senator said that responding against the dreaded disease “is a top health priority, and government must invest heavily not only on prevention and cure by way of research, but also on containment.”
“We have many homegrown medical experts in and out of government,” he said.
“This is one phenomenon that should bring us together as a nation,” Lacson said.
For his part, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that the DOH should not withhold information from the public except those pertaining to private and confidential information.
Drilon stressed that “there should be transparency in the handling of COVID-19 pursuant to the law in order to avoid panic and misinformation.”
“To me, the public should be informed. That is an obligation of the government to the people, to be open and transparent. What we need to protect is the private information because of the stigma that comes with being diagnosed of having COVID-19,” Drilon said.
The DOH is mandated by law “to provide accurate and timely health information about notifiable diseases, and health-related events and conditions to citizens and health providers as an integral part of response to public health emergencies,” he said.
Duque begged for understanding and urged the public to remember that the DOH is swamped with tasks, including the quarantine of hundreds of Filipinos repatriated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was first reported, as well as from Japan.
Due to the Code Red alert, Duque recommended to President Rodrigo Duterte for the declaration of a state of public health emergency to facilitate mobilization of resources, ease the procurement of critical logistics and supplies, and intensify reporting.
Duque also said there is a “global shortage” of re-agents, materials and chemicals needed to test for COVID-19.
With the help of the World Health Organization, at present, he said the DOH has around 4,500 testing capacity.
“And then, South Korea will give 500 additional testing kits to help us,” he said.
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, a long time aide of the President said the latter agreed to declare a a state of public health emergency.
Go, Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, said that aside from immediate access to funding to respond to the issue, particularly for the LGUs. “Under Republic Act (RA) 10121, such declaration allows the LGUs to utilize their local disaster risk reduction management funds.
“The declaration eases processes on procurement, mandatory reporting, mandatory quarantine and travel restrictions, among others,” Go added.
If the President pushes through with the declaration, he said it will also serve as basis for possible price freeze under RA 7581 or the Price Act, according to the Senator./Stacy Ang