PH’s COVID-19 data not timely, says ex-gov’t adviser Leachon

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 30 2020 06:33 PM | Updated as of Jun 30 2020 06:59 PM

A City Health Office worker gives a COVID-19 antibody rapid test to a resident of Barangay Carmen, Cagayan de Oro June 25, 2020. Froilan Gallardo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — A former adviser to the government’s COVID-19 response said one of the biggest problems the Philippines is facing is managing data related to the virus.

“If you are talking about the timeliness of data, I don’t think it is timely at this point in time,” Dr. Tony Leachon said during a virtual forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

He said that, while the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 had “excellent leaders,” he had concerns about the Department of Health’s “sense of urgency.”

“They (NTF) have been given full responsibility but they are not given full authority as to communicate, as to the real data and granular data,” Leachon said.

“As we speak right now there are still backlogs. There are fresh and late cases that would actually hamper the decision-making of the IATF,” he explained.

Leachon, who was removed as a government adviser on June 13 after he tweeted about how the DOH “lost focus” in terms of its priorities and data management, said there are also concerns on the transparency of data.

He said that when he went to Cebu with the NTF, the data they got from the health regional director of Region 7 was “quite far from the data that we got from the doctors from the medical community.”

“And this is a big problem considering you cannot anticipate a problem if the data would not be transparent, open and straight-forward,” Leachon said. 

He said there was one time when they received data that was 2 weeks late. 

Besides testing backlogs, the DOH has had to contend with delays in validation, which meant that COVID-19 cases are not announced in real time but are instead reported days after the test results are released. The DOH has attributed the delays to the lack of encoders and the manual forms used in reporting. However, even with the shift to the digital COVIDKaya platform, there are still delays. 

“My dream is to have the data like the United States. They report the data second by second,” Leachon said.

When Leachon was forced to resign, his superior, NTF chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., said that while constructive criticism is welcome it should have been done internally.

Without saying if he was referring to his own case, Leachon said during the forum: “We should call for solidarity and unity rather than those criticizing the government would be accosted or harassed in trying to bring out the truth.”

Before being asked to resign, Leachon also spoke out about Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s work. He said the Secretary should “step up” and come up with a plan as cases continue to rise in Cebu City.

Leachon told reporters at the forum that there seems to be no clear flow of communication from the Department of Health on what particular LGUs “must do,” when it comes to contact tracing. He said he favored the strategy of Baguio City and that other provinces should be given a “blueprint” on how to address COVID-19 based on the best practices of other areas.

He pointed out that while it is hard to compare the Philippines with other countries, Vietnam, which has more or less the same population and a lower gross domestic product (GDP), did better to contain the COVID-19 virus. 

He said this is because Vietnam was able to start its lockdown earlier in February.

As for the Philippines, Leachon said: “There is a national action plan . . . But the main problem is whether there is right execution.”