MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) is trying to “balance” the privacy of patients and public health interests in releasing information on confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) in the country, a Palace official said on Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made this remark following some lawmakers’ criticism over the DOH’s supposed “underreporting” of information on patients who have tested positive for Covid-19.
Panelo disagreed with lawmakers, noting that the department could not be underreporting if it did not have the information available yet in the first place.
“Hindi totoo yung criticism na ‘yun. How can they report kung di pa nila alam (That’s not true. How can they report if they don’t know the results yet)?” he said, adding that contact tracing of suspected patients with Covid-19 “takes time.”
Panelo, also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, said another factor why the DOH could not immediately release information is that it has to remain confidential under the Data Privacy Act (Republic Act 10173).
He, however, said public health interests would be prioritized if “there is a dramatic increase in cases” of Covid-19.
“If you will ask me as a lawyer, we can, pero binabalanse nga nila (but they are still balancing it). I think they (DOH) will study that,” he said.
On Monday, Health Secretary Franciso Duque III said the reason behind the impression that the health department is underreporting the number of persons who have tested positive for the new Covid-19 in the country is due to “limited testing supplies.”
Duque explained that the limited supply of testing kits has prompted the department to be “prudent” in conducting Covid-19 confirmatory tests.
“We have to rationalize our testing. Yung mga tingin natin may sintomas at yung (those with symptoms and those with) history of travel, history of exposure para (so that) we will be prudent in the use of our very limited supplies,” he said.
Duque, however, assured that the DOH would be able to expand the coverage of those who will be tested once the department acquires more testing kits.
It will be disclosing hospital names after coordination with hospitals to combat unverified or fake news, he said.
Duque also reassured the public that the country’s hospitals have infection prevention and controlled practices in place.
Currently, there are 24 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country.
President Rodrigo Duterte has issued a proclamation formally declaring a state of public health emergency throughout the Philippines after the health department reported the first known local transmission of Covid-19.
The proclamation would also facilitate the implementation of mandatory reporting, intensify government response and measures, and enforce quarantine and disease control prevention measures.
He also ordered the suspension of all schools in the National Capital Region from March 10 to 14 to ensure the safety of students from the disease. (PNA)