DOH should take the lead on COVID’s information drive

By: Atty. Ruphil F. Bañoc - Columnist/CDN Digital | March 13,2020 - 07:34 AM

Columnist Ruphil Bañoc is asking the question if the DOH is ready to address the COVID-19 in the country.

For now, I do not want to be judgmental on the personnel of the Department of Health (DOH) on how they handle the present crisis on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). I still want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I understand and respect those who criticize the DOH because they also have their own observations as to how it handles the problem. Many have observed that since the early stage of COVID-19 in the country, the agency appears to be not performing well.

To recall, the DOH claimed that it knew of the first death of COVID-19 in the Philippines, but it did not declare it to the public. It was the World Health Organization (WHO) that first announced the matter, and DOH just followed.

Also, when the fifth case of COVID-19 in the country was confirmed — the man who went frequently to a Muslim prayer hall in a mall at San Juan City — the DOH said that it could not consider it yet as a case of local transmission. Again, the WHO was the one that announced it as the first case of local transmission. In fact, the wife of that man was also infected with the virus.

DOH underreporting COVID-19?

Senator Panfilo Lacson voiced out that the DOH was underreporting the COVID-19 in the country. He suspected that there were those infected already, but due to lack of equipment to determine it, the number was still very minimal.

When Lacson spoke out, there were still 6 confirmed cases in the country. In the afternoon of that same day it reached to 10 confirmed cases. The following day it became 20 cases. When President Rodrigo Duterte signed the declaration of Public Health emergency, the number was 24.

As of this writing, there are 52 confirmed cases already in the Philippines. Many wonder why the number went fast. This appears to support the claim of Lacson that the DOH was underreporting.

Only 2000 test kits

Recently, the DOH admitted during the Senate hearing that it had only 2000 test kits to be used to determine if a person had been positive of the virus. Senators scolded the agency for having only a very limited number of test kits as against the more than 110 million population of the country.

Our test kits are from Japan and the WHO. There is another batch coming from the WHO but that can accommodate only 2000 individuals. Where is the so called test kit from local scientists? 

The DOH also mentioned of the P43 million budget for various equipment. The questions of the senators were valid as to how many test kits could be procured on the said amount. These facts would make an ordinary citizen conclude that the DOH was unprepared of the crisis.

Why is it so? Is it not the DOH claiming that it is ready? Is it not a fact that DOH Secretary Franciso Duque said long before that local transmission would happen and it was just a question of when it would happen? Could people be blamed if they would say that the DOH was so lousy?

Last night President Rodrigo Duterte addressed the nation about the urgent measures against COVID-19. He encouraged the people to listen and follow the instruction of the DOH. But is the DOH really ready? 

Educate people

If the agency is not ready yet on other aspects, there is still enough time to recover its shortcomings. While it is understandable that the DOH is busy nowadays, I suggest that it will also give time to educate our people so that they will know what to do to be safe from the virus and not panic about the situation.

The DOH personnel are supposed to be the most credible people to explain about the virus. They should have not left the people hanging and seek any information on social media.

I suggest the DOH to designate at least one spokesperson every regional office to do the radio hopping to maximize the information campaign. Radio and television stations are very much willing to welcome and accommodate them. They can also maximize the social media on their campaign.

For now my own observation is: Many times I called up the DOH officials for a radio interview but they were not available. I do not want to believe that they do not know the importance of educating the people on the matter.

Why are they not making themselves available for live radio and TV interviews? I hope they are responsible enough to grasp the kind of job that they are into./dbs

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