MANILA — As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines continues to rise, the public is seeing less data released pertaining to the patients.
While bulletins issued by the Department of Health in January and February gave details on the symptoms and conditions of patients, such basic details as location and hospital admission have either remained blank or marked "for validation" for hundreds of cases by the time the tally reached thousands.
By the middle of March, the DOH stopped releasing data sheets of cases to media. The agency asked both the press and the public to rely on its ncovtracker website, which, unfortunately, had typographical errors and inconsistencies.
ABS-CBN News and other media organizations relied instead on case bulletins on recoveries and deaths, which, by April 3, the DOH also stopped releasing.
On Wednesday, the DOH explained why it is struggling with the numbers.
According to Dr. Beverly Ho, special assistant to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, the DOH sources its data from case investigation forms (CIF) and the laboratory information system.
Data on individuals tested for COVID-19 can be found in the laboratory information system. Meanwhile, the CIF records the name, age, occupation, travel history and contacts of COVID-19 cases and patients under investigation.
Hospitals and people doing contact tracing are responsible for filling up both forms.
“Unfortunately, the data submitted to us are often incomplete or are in hard copies,” Ho said.
When the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau receives incomplete data, they will have to call the hospital to get more information, she explained.
“If the occupation field is left blank, we will never know from our database how many health workers were actually affected,” Ho said. “If the questions on travel history are not filled up, we cannot say how many for sure of those who were affected got it from travel or were just locally transmitted.”
There have been a number of instances when details released by the DOH on COVID-19 fatalities mention “unknown travel or exposure history.
Ho said this is the reason why “each one of us has a role to play in ensuring that the information is accurate.”
She said having complete data coming from hospitals and other stakeholders will present the whole picture of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
Ho said employees and partners of the agency are now encoding 10,000 CIF paper forms.
She said some of their employees are working from home and helping reduce the number of encoding backlogs.
“By Sunday, April 12, we aim to have zero encoding backlogs,” she said.
“Starting next week, all are required to submit the CIF forms and lab results online. This will save our Epidemiology Bureau time and effort to consolidate the results,” Ho added.
The health official said that they are hoping that by Monday, everything will be encoded and “we will see a more accurate picture of our cases.”
“We will be offline to catch up in the encoding in the next few days and be back on Sunday,” she said.
However, the DOH will continue its operations and will update the public through its social media accounts.
It is unclear if the DOH will again start releasing details on the recoveries and fatalities, or if they will issue data sheets on individual cases.
As of Wednesday, there have been 3,870 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country. Of that number, 96 have recovered and 182 have died.