Ex-DOH chief: Gov’t must ramp up testing, contact tracing

Published May 8, 2021, 4:39 PM

by Gabriela Baron

The Philippines should scale up its daily coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing to at least 130,000 to combat the virus, former Department of Health (DOH) secretary said Saturday, May 8.


“Tinatantsa na kailangan ng 130,000 to 160,000 tests per day, pero ang average lamang natin ay nasa 50,000 per day (It’s estimated that 130,000 to 160,000 tests per day are needed, but our average is only 50,000 per day),” Dr. Esperanza Cabral said during the “Talakayang Bayan Para sa Kalusugan” organized by 1Sambayan.

“Sa ngayon kulang ang ginagawa nating testing para malaman kung sino ang may COVID, sino ang walang COVID dito sa atin (So far we’re not doing enough testing to find out who has COVID-19 and who does not),” she added.

The country is conducting an average of over 55,000 COVID-19 tests per day, according to testing czar Vince Dizon.

Contact tracing remains weak

Cabral also urged the national government to boost contact tracing efforts and increase its current output to 15 to 37 persons per confirmed COVID-19 case.

“Pinakamahina talaga sa ating pagtugon sa COVID-19 ang ating contact tracing (Our contact tracing is actually the weakest in our COVID-19 response),” she added.

Contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong said in a briefing that contact tracing continues to be the “weakest link” in the country’s COVID-19 response.

In Metro Manila, the contact tracing efficiency ratio was at 1:5 as of last week, up from the 1:2 to 1:3 the week prior.

However, the ideal contact tracing efficiency ratio should be at 1:15 to 1:37, said Cabral.

COVID-19 aid not enough

What else went wrong?

Recurring lockdowns left many Filipinos hungry and jobless.

Cabral said government’s COVID-19 assistance was not enough and even being included in it was a privilege.

“Maraming maririnig tayo na hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa nila natatanggap ang ayuda galing sa Bayanihan 1. O kaya kung matanggap man nila, hindi ito nakakasapat (We hear that a lot of people still haven’t received aid from Bayanihan 1. And even if they did, it still not enough),” she lamented.

“Maraming problema pa sa pagdi-distribute ng ayuda dahil hindi klaro kung sino yung mga beneficiary, mahirap makapasok sa listahan ng beneficiaries kung pangalan mo ay wala, maraming palakasan, at yung mga distribution venues ay nagiging lugar para sa pagkalat ng COVID-19 dahil nagiging siksikan (There are still many problems with the distribution of aid because it’s not clear who the beneficiaries are, it’s difficult to receive aid when your name is not included in the list, politicking is rampant, distribution venues are becoming superspreader events),” Cabral pressed.

Get vaccinated

Cabral also underscored the importance of getting inoculated.

“With our poor performance at testing, tracing, isolating, treating, and providing assistance to the socio-economically displaced it looks like our only way out of this pandemic is to vaccinate ourselves into herd immunity.”

The government is eyeing to inoculate around 70 million Filipinos, or around 70 percent of the country’s total population, for the Philippines to achieve herd immunity.

Over two million of AstraZeneca vaccines were delivered to the country by the COVAX Facility on Saturday which brought the total supply to 7,571,000 vaccine doses composed of Coronavac from Sinovac Biotech of China, AstraZeneca, and Sputnik V from Gamaleya Research Institute of Russia.

More than two million doses have been administered as of May 4, according to the Department of Health and the National Task Force Against COVID-19.