MANILA - The Philippine government has directed all health authorities to ask for the consent of patients sickened with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to release their information to the public to help trace people they got in contact with, a Cabinet official said late Friday.
"To encourage the voluntary coordination with epidemiology and surveillance units or ESUs of close contacts of patients who tested positive for COVID-19, and subject to the rights of patients to withhold consent, all health facilities, whether private or public, are hereby directed to request for the consent of the said patients for the public disclosure of their identities," Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said, in announcing new guidelines approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
"So pakiusap po para matulungan 'yong contact tracing sa lahat ng mga public health facilities, paki-ask ng permission ng COVID-19 patients if they're willing to disclose their identities to the public," said Nograles, who is is spokesperson of the IATF-EID.
The National Privacy Commission (NPC) earlier warned government agencies to follow data privacy guidelines when releasing information of COVID-19 cases.
NPC commissioner Raymund Liboro had said that the Data Privacy Act, which regulates the collection and release of personal data, is not meant to hamper government “from processing personal and sensitive personal information when necessary to fulfill their mandates during a public health emergency.”
Instead, he said proper handling of such information is “crucial in stopping the spread of the virus.”
Among the considerations the Department of Health (DOH) and other agencies should weigh, according to the NPC, are (1) the potential harm or distress to the patient arising from the disclosure, and (2) the potential damage to trust in doctors and health institutions in general, versus (1) the potential harm to the public if the information is not disclosed and (2) the potential benefits to individuals and society arising from the release of information.
As of Friday afternoon, the number of coronavirus infections in the Philippines has climbed to 803. Of the number, 54 have died while 31 have recovered.