‘Kumusta ka na?’: Why DOH is drawing flak for asking COVID-19 survivors to get in touch

June 8, 2020 - 2:11 PM
Swab testing in Taguig
A healthcare worker prepares to take a swab of a man in Taguig City on May 8, 2020. (The STAR/Walter Bollozos)

A recurring post of the Department of Health asking for COVID-19 survivors to speak up and share their current status earned backlash for its perceived connection as to how contact tracing is done among the public.

The post was shared by the local health agency on its social media pages and official Viber community where Filipinos can subscribe and get information related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is accompanied by an infographic where COVID-19 survivors who have contracted the viral disease before May 1 can e-mail or call DOH to share their stories and current status in relation to their health or their welfare.

The post reads:

“Mars, kumusta ka na? Kung ikaw ay isang confirmed COVID-19 case bago ang May 1, gusto naming malaman ang status mo! Tumawag na ngayon sa aming hotline (02) 894-COVID / 1555 o mag-email sa [email protected].” 

Another variation of the post also reads:

“Ano na ang status mo ngayon? Kung ikaw ay isang confirmed COVID-19 case bago ang May 1, gusto naming malaman ang status mo! Tawagan kami ngayon sa aming hotline (02) 894-COVID / 1555 o mag-email sa [email protected].” 

There is also another variation that specifically asks whether a COVID-19 survivor has experienced symptoms.

“COVID-19 positive patient ka ba at nakaranas ng mga bahagyang sintomas? Hindi alam ang iyong gagawin? Kung ikaw ay isang confirmed COVID-19 case bago ang May 1, gusto naming malaman ang status mo! Tawagan kami ngayon sa aming hotline (02) 894-COVID / 1555 o mag-email sa [email protected].” 

One of the variations of the posts earned the ire of local Twitter users who perceived it to be a manner of how DOH does contact tracing, especially to those who have been afflicted before May 1, as the post indicates.

“YOU MEAN TO SAY WALA KAYONG DATABASE NG CONTACT INFO NG MGA PASYENTE? Like for follow up man lang?” a concerned Twitter user asked in response to the post.

Another online user pointed out that the DOH should be actively tracing the contacts of a positive case, not “posting on Twitter and hoping someone sees” the posts.

“Mars, how about the survivors who don’t have access w/ this info? How will they reach you? Mars naman, you shoul’ve (had) their numbers sana,” remarked another online user in response to the health agency’s post.

Veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona said that the health agency should have records of individuals who had tested positive since it is already “slow” on its validation process of the COVID-19 tests.

RELATED: Definition of terms: Fresh and late cases, backlogs, and other health-related jargon

James Jimenez, the spokesperson of the Commission on Elections, similarly aired his concerns about the DOH’s initiative on the microblogging platform.

“Weren’t confirmed cases documented? Their contact details put on record for contact tracing or something? Shouldn’t DOH be able to just assign some people to, idk (I don’t know), phone them all one by one instead of waiting for them to call back? Or to find an internet connection & email?” he wrote.

Another Filipino found DOH’s posts alarming and claimed that it could mean “there might be confirmed positive individuals roaming around in public” if the individuals afflicted with the viral disease before May 1 were not supposedly contacted.

The DOH constantly releases stories of some COVID-19 survivors for inspiration. Tagged under “Survivors Speak,” these individuals share their insights and experiences as former patients of the viral disease.

The initiative is meant to empower patients and remove stigma against those who have been infected. It is also meant to serve as an inspiration amid the posts and updates of the health agency about the pandemic which has made people constantly anxious.

"I used to underestimate the threat of this pandemic until I became a patient myself. Being a patient for the first time…

Posted by Department of Health (Philippines) on Thursday, May 28, 2020


‘Slow’ efforts 

The World Health Organization previously expressed its concern on the DOH’s contact tracing efforts which it described as “slow” and mentioned it should begin once a suspected case visits a hospital or a health facility.

Last month, Dr. Socorro Escalante, the COVID-19 incident manager of the WHO Western Pacific Region, said that the Philippine government needs to “work harder” in its efforts to trace people before it lifts the enhanced community quarantine.

Metro Manila and other regions have already been placed in the less stringent general community quarantine from June 1 to 15, where more people are allowed to go out.

As of Sunday, the country has 16,362 active cases of COVID-19, according to independent trackers.

The DOH already informed the public that it is emergency hiring 94,000 contact tracers to meet the ideal ratio where one contact tracer is able to trace 800 people.

Contact tracers are personnel working with the health agency and the Department of Interior and Local Government to identify and track down people who have interacted with an infected individual.

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, whose city has been lauded for its aggressive contact tracing efforts, said that qualified people needed to have “investigative” capabilities and have an “investigative mindset” to effectively trace possible carriers.

WHO defines contact tracing as “the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent onward transmission.”

The international health agency described it as an “essential public health tool for controlling infectious disease outbreaks.”

The WHO added that when it is systematically applied in healthcare systems, along with the efforts of the government, it can “break the chains of transmission of an infectious disease.”

“Contact tracing for COVID-19 requires identifying persons who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and following them up daily for 14 days from the last point of exposure,” it said.

“For contact tracing to be effective, countries must have adequate capacity to test suspect cases in a timely manner. Where this is not possible, testing and contact tracing strategies may instead focus on specific high-risk settings with vulnerable individuals, such as hospitals, care homes, or other closed settings (e.g. dormitories),” WHO added.