By Vanne Terrazola
Opposition senators on Monday, April 13, expressed support for the government’s plan to require the disclosure of identities of COVID-19 patients to speed up its contact tracing efforts.
“Patients waiving the confidentiality of their medical condition will help authorities in the conduct of timely contact-tracing. It is a matter of public health and thus a responsibility,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a text message.
Hontiveros, however, said the Interagency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases should come up with clear guidelines for such a policy to still protect the patients who tested positive for novel coronavirus disease. Among others, she said “there is a need to narrow down the information needed for disclosure as specifically as possible.” She added that the IATF should also make sure that the patients’ information are disclosed “only to the proper authorities and will not be used for any other purpose, and in accordance with the Data Privacy Act.”
She also called for mechanisms to prevent and address reports of discrimination against confirmed, suspected, and probable COVID-19 cases. Sen. Francis Pangilinan also found the IATF’s policy reasonable, but like his colleague in the Senate minority, he said there should be safeguards in the sharing of the patients’ personal information.
“I think it is justified given the need to ensure effective contact tracing. There ought to be safeguards however to ensure that the information is shared responsibly and with due regard for privacy rights when warranted,” he said.
IATF spokesperson and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Monday clarified that patients would not be required to disclose their personal information publicly but only to the Department of Health (DOH). He assured that this will serve as the “safekeeper of the information.” He also clarified that the DOH may share their identities to local government units and law enforcement agencies to help in the contact tracing efforts.
Nograles said patients who refuse to disclose personal data or those who will provide false information will be penalized under Republic Act 11332 or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.” Despite the order, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the IATF has yet to finalize the guidelines on the mandatory disclosure of the patients’ information, particularly which details should be disclosed.
On Sunday, April 12, Nograles said the Office of Civil Defense will lead the government’s contact tracing efforts, in coordination with other concerned agencies and LGUs.