PH targets COVID-19 testing for 10 million Filipinos by 2021

Published July 21, 2020, 11:29 AM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The government is aiming to test 10 million Filipinos by 2021 to detect, trace and treat those infected with the new coronavirus disease.


During his meeting with President Duterte on Tuesday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted that the country cannot test all Filipinos, and instead will target only 10 percent of the population.

The health chief made the pronouncement after the President asked him if country can test all Filipinos during a meeting on coronavirus response held Monday.

“Hindi naman po natin puwede i-test ang bawat mamamayan. Walang bansa ang nakakagawa nito, kahit po ang pinakayaman katulad ng United States of America (We cannot test every citizen. No country can do this even the rich ones like the United States).”

Duque explained that the United States, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths worldwide, tested 40 million people or “close to 9 percent of the total population” of 370 million.

He instead informed the President about the government’s expanded testing, tracing and treatment efforts to curb the transmission of the disease.

“Malalagpasan po natin iyon. Magiging mga 10 percent po tayo (We can surpass that. We can test 10 percent) of the total population of the Philippines at 109 million. We might be able to reach about 10 million Filipinos by 2021,” he said.

So far, Duque said health authorities have tested over 1,120,000 people for the coronavirus disease.

The country has a testing capacity of 74,000 a day but the actual daily test output has only reached 25,000, he said.

“Ang target po natin is 10 million Filipinos to be tested by 2021. We hope to do the test at 32,000 to 40,000 a day,” he said.

The President has expressed support for the government’s testing goal but reminded them to reduce it to “barest minimum.” “I think 10 [million] would be a good number if you can achieve that,” he said.

The government has stepped up testing, tracing and treatment efforts while gradually easing the restrictions to further open up the economy.

LGU test efforts lacking

But efforts of the local government units (LGUs) in conducting tests and tracing of coronavirus-stricken individuals in communities are still lacking, National Task Force (NTF) Against Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said.

Galvez, who attended President Duterte’s public address aired on Tuesday, said the NTF learned about the problem after Baguio City Mayor and tracing czar Benjamin Magalong talked to local leaders in the country to assess their tracing capabilities.

“Sa trace, ngayon lang po namin nalaman na ang ginagawa ng ating mga mayors ay kulang pa. Karamihan pa noong ina-assess ni General Magalong ‘yung NCR [National Capital Region] mayors, binigay nila ang report at nagpunta rin sa Cebu, Region 4 at bukas pupunta siya sa Region 3, nakita po na kulang pa ang ginagawang testing (In tracing, we found out that what the mayors are doing are still lacking. Most of the mayors in the National Capital Region, Cebu, Region 4 who were assessed by General Magalong and in Region 3, where he will inspect tomorrow [Wednesday], are not doing enough in terms of testing),” Galvez said.

Galvez had earlier bared that for every COVID-positive individual, there is an average of 37 close contacts who must be traced to prevent the virus from spreading.

“Ang tinitignan, kapag nag-trace mababa po ang nate-trace. Kumpara sa nakuha ng mayors, one is to 20 ang pinakamataas at ang iba pa ay one is to three (When they conducted tracing, it yielded low results. Compared to the efforts of the mayors, the highest was one [positive individual] is to 20 [contacts], others are one is to three),” he told the President.

“Ibig sabihin, mayroon pang nakakawala na mga positive (That means there are still positive cases that are not detected),” he added.

To address this, Galvez cited two possible solutions which were patterned after Japan and India.

One of which is to strengthen the LGUs’ Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) to do the contact tracing and “follow the trail”
of COVID-19 in communities, just like how Japan successfully curbed the threat of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.

He said this was done in Cebu City where Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu coordinated with the BHERTs to stop the surge of infections.

“Noong kinausap niya po ‘yung 80 barangays sa Cebu, gumanda po ang kalagayan ng Cebu. Tumaas po ang [case] doubling time, at the same time, ‘yung RO (R naught) bumaba po ng 1.1. Ibig sabihin yung reproduction at transmission bumaba (When he talked to the 80 barangay leaders in Cebu, the situation was stabilized. The case doubling time is longer now and at the
same time, the RO went down to 1.1. It means that the reproduction and transmission [of the virus] decreased),” Galvez said.

The other possible solution is what Galvez called the “Rabi” model in India which was introduced by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to the NTF.

“‘Yung the Rabi model, ‘yung hospitals po ang pumupunta sa mga slum areas. Sila ang nagiisa-isa, nag-ha-house to house kung sino ang mga may kaso ng COVID. Doon lang po makukuha at ma-isolate natin siya (In the Daragi model, the hospital staff are the ones going to the slum areas. They are the ones conducting house visits to determine who among the residents are infected with COVID-19. That’s one way to get and isolate them),” he said.

It has similarities with “Oplan Kalinga” that was launched by the government last week where health workers, assisted by cops, conduct house visits to transfer mild and asymptomatic patients from their homes to isolation centers to prevent the transmission of the virus to family members.

Galvez said strengthening the testing and tracing capabilities of LGUs are crucial in the country’s fight against the pandemic.

“Ang haligi ng ating National Action Plan ay binubuo po ng test, trace, isolate, treat. Dahil sa lumalaking bilang ng COVID cases, kailangan matutukan ‘yung apat na haligi dahil sa lahat ng ibang bansa na nakita nating nagiging maganda ang kanilang kalagayan, itong apat na ito ang naging haligi ng kanilang estratehiya (The foundation of our National Action Plan is consisted of test, trace, isolate and treat. With the rising number of COVID-19 cases, we need to give importance to the four foundations since all of the countries which are successful in their fight focused on these factors as part of their strategies),” he said.

More than 69,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus in the country as of July 20. The death toll has reached 1,835.