While the government has worked hard in vaccinating its population against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) noted that testing and contact tracing remain “a challenge” in the country.
In its written statement on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on State response to the pandemic, the CHR said the government is “reluctant” to provide for mass testing and rather prefers to use a “risk-based approach.”
It said the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) also relied on the statement of the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) on mass testing, which said that “indiscriminate mass testing of asymptomatic individuals using tests with sub-optimal sensitivity is neither feasible nor practical.”
Even last year when COVID-19 first broke out in the country, the Department of Health (DOH) admitted that mass testing of the population who have been affected have not been conducted, it said.
“Actual cases are likely underreported, and contact tracing was described as failing; and despite the ongoing efforts of the government to improve testing and contact tracing capacities, the weakness and failure in implementation have seriously impacted the conditions of at-risk and vulnerable groups,” it also said.
These vulnerable groups include older persons, persons with disabilities, persons deprived of their liberties, internally displaced persons, and indigents living in cramped quarters, the CHR pointed out.
Also, it said, the housing situation of these vulnerable groups makes physical distancing “next to impossible.”
On the other hand, the CHR has taken “great solace” in the efforts of several local government units (LGUs) to ensure that their constituents, including the marginalized members of society, have access to vaccines — be it through vaccination drives and information dissemination campaigns.
It noted that the biggest hurdle against herd immunity is vaccine hesitancy and common vaccine misconceptions. A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey even revealed that only three out of 10 Filipino adults are willing to be vaccinated months into the national vaccine rollout, it added.
“The right to information on matters of public concern is crucially linked to the realization of an individual’s right to health in times of a pandemic,” the CHR said.
“Enabling individuals to make sound decisions based on facts is the right way to decrease vaccine hesitancy among the public,” it stressed.
The CHR cited Iloilo City as an example where effective information dissemination translated to a high vaccine acceptance rate among constituents.
It said that well-informed individuals are indeed in the best position to make decisions on their health and wellbeing.