Philippines short of 94,000 contact tracers to meet WHO standards

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 26 2020 05:40 PM | Updated as of May 26 2020 07:01 PM

Philippines short of 94,000 contact tracers to meet WHO standards 1
Residents selected for testing gather at the Baclaran Elementary School as local authorities enforce a reasonable calibrated lockdown of 10 major streets in Barangay Baclaran, Parañaque City on May 21, 2020, in an attempt to prevent spread of COVID-19. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Philippines has yet to meet the contact tracing standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO), due to its shortage of 94,000 contact tracers, the health department said Tuesday. 

"They have set this benchmark where we need to have one contact tracer for every 800 persons in the country. Considering what we have for now, the number of contact tracers we're short of about 94,000 if we are going to follow that benchmark," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on ANC's Headstart.

On Monday, WHO acting representative Dr. Socorro Escalante urged the government to speed up the contact tracing process.

Vergeire however said there are "issues with our health system especially in regard to the identification of people who can do contact tracing."

Contact tracing is usually initiated after test results are confirmed and sent to local epidemiology officers. The process takes 13 days from the time the patient goes to a hospital.

Escalante said the government should however start looking for close contacts once a suspected case visits a hospital and not wait until lab results are confirmed.

Vergeire said the government is already conducting emergency hiring of contact tracers to help identify possible coronavirus patients.

Other countries are tapping technology in its contact tracing efforts. South Korea tracks the virus spread through data sharing system that patches together cellphone location data and credit card records, while Qatar and France were mulling over the use of mobile phone apps. 

In the Philippines, it remains unclear how much salary a contact tracer should receive, but Vergeire said the government recently allotted funds and approved the hiring of at least 15,000 healthcare workers.

"With this 15,000 healthcare personnel we might be able to identify those to be hired especially for our communities. But this is in partnership with the local government unit," she said.

As of Monday, the Philippines has 14,319 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 873 deaths and 3,323 recoveries.