By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippine government must prioritize the coronavirus testing of patients with severe medical conditions as well as the elderly given the limited supply of test kits, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Tuesday.
WHO Representative in the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe made the recommendation to slow down the surge in the number of cases of infections in the country.
“In the situation that the Philippines is right now, our recommendations are that the limited testing that is available be used to strengthen the testing of people who are symptomatic,” he said in the Laging Handa public briefing aired over state-owned People’s Television network Tuesday.
“Our recommendation now is to prioritize testing for people with severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome in addition to people with symptoms of severe disease and underlying co-morbidities, and the elderly,” he added.
The WHO official was reacting to queries if government officials should be given courtesy in getting tested for coronavirus despite showing no signs of the disease.
Some politicians have recently been criticized on social media for jumping the line in the testing even though they are in good condition. Concerned groups said that instead, people with the symptoms and health workers should be given the priority to be tested.
According to Abeyasinghe, the new coronavirus disease is transmitted largely by symptomatic people. The key clinical features of the disease include acute respiratory infection accompanied by fever and sore throat.
He said the diagnostic test would be useful not only to confirm the infection of patients and improve their management but “more importantly this information needs to be used quickly for contact tracing and isolating people at high risk to limit further transmission.”
“The evidence that asymptomatic people are transmitting this disease is very weak. In our estimate, almost 90 percent of the disease is transmitted by symptomatic people and so we need to focus expressly on those symptomatic people to maximize the benefit of the enhanced community quarantine that is now being implemented,” he said.
“So clear focus on these symptoms will be very useful in the identification, especially the isolation of people with symptoms,” he added.
He said people showing coronavirus symptoms must practice social distancing to avoid infecting others. “People with those symptoms must practice physical distancing, isolate themselves from other family members,” he said.
He also said WHO recommends the use of face masks for these people as well as health workers at this time.
The WHO earlier warned that the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating after more than 300,000 cases have been reported.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on countries to pursue rigorous testing and contact-tracing strategies, apart from advising people to stay at home and observe physical distancing measures.
As of Tuesday, the country’s coronavirus cases have reached 501 with 33 fatalities.
President Duterte has declared a state of public health emergency as well as a state of calamity to mobilize government resources to effectively quell the spread of the disease.
Luzon is under a month-long enhanced community quarantine that required home quarantine for residents, suspended public transport, encouraged work-from-home arrangements in most companies, and imposed travel restrictions, among others.