The Department of Health plans to expand coronavirus testing to include asymptomatic subgroups after the country reached 10,000 tests daily.
Health Undersecretary Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire, with infectious disease experts Dr. Benjamin Co and Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, discussed the department’s new direction in testing.
Ong-Lim, immediate past president of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines, explained there would still be criteria for deciding which groups of the asymptomatic population should be tested to efficiently maximize the limited supply.
While testing is a vital part of the country’s overall strategy against the pandemic, expanded targeted testing with other strategies like prevention through increasing resilience, contact tracing, isolation, and treatment and management remains the ideal approach to quell the spread of the disease.
Co, infectious diseases and clinical pharmacology expert, reported that the Philippines’ COVID-19 positivity rate of 7.2 percent was below the World Health Organization’s 10 percent benchmark, a good indicator that the country was sufficiently testing.
The positivity rate shows what percentage of the population that has been tested turns out positive for the disease
Co also noted that the case fatality rate was within 4.8 percent, which would likely decrease further once testing had been expanded.
It is also important to distinguish the difference between the positivity rate and the infectivity rate, explained Ong-Lim.
She said those who had tested positive did not mean they could infect others already, adding some individuals who recovered from COVID-19 might continue to test positive with Reverse-Transmission Polymerase-Chain-Reaction due to the sensitivity of the test towards the virus.
Ong-Lim explained that tests might sometimes detect fragments or remnants of the virus that remain but this did not mean that the individual was still infectious.
According to Co, testing negative did not guarantee immunity, and people should remain cautious even after being screened.
The Health spokesperson also noted that it is the first weekend since Metro Manila transitioned into a General Community Quarantine, and reiterated the importance of observing proper prevention measures.
Vergeire asked the public to continue the proper use of PPEs, physical distancing, and good hygiene should they find themselves outside. She also cautioned against going outside unless absolutely necessary, to minimize the risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte has named Dr. Leopoldo Vega as new undersecretary of the Department of Health, making him the 9th undersecretary of DOH headed by Sec. Francisco Duque III.
Palace spokesperson Harry Roque said Vega was for 12 years chief of Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) in Davao City, one of the state-run hospitals in Mindanao at the frontlines against the coronavirus pandemic.
In related developments, the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) considers the over-two-month delay in implementing the compensation for COVID infections and COVID-caused deaths among health workers as a reflection of incompetent leadership in the Department of Health.
“As President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he will dismiss officials behind the mentioned delay in the release of financial assistance to the families of affected health workers, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III must be held accountable for failure to monitor his team and fast track the implementation of this approved compensation,” Maristela Abenojar, FNU president, said in a statement Sunday.
This delayed compensation is just one among many failures of the DOH in providing optimum protection to the country’s health workers at the forefront of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, such as delay in purchase and distribution of personal protection equipment (PPE), delay in mass testing of frontline health workers, delay in mass hiring of additional health workers, delay in COVID-19 infection prevention and control training of frontline health workers, she said.
This consistent inefficiency of the DOH is at the expense of frontline health workers, she said.
“This inefficiency has lead to very high incidence of COVID infection and needless deaths among health workers Secretary Duque as chief of the country’s health service fighting the pandemic should have been acutely aware of what is happening on-ground especially among his own subordinates,” Abenojar said.
His claim that the delay in compensation or reparation for the intended health worker-beneficiaries was because implementing rules and regulations were yet to be crafted by his deputy staff, on whom he placed blame, only shows his lack of control and his indifferent and callous disregard for the general welfare of his primary stakeholders: the nurses and health workers who risk lives and limbs to fight the deadly coronavirus, she said.