Pandemic of neglect: COVID-19 deaths in PH have doubled since August, and the dying are not getting hospital care

Warren de Guzman and Edson Guido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 12 2020 06:54 PM

Funeral home workers carry a coffin to their vehicle after delivering a cadaver that is reportedly a COVID-19 case to a crematorium in Quezon City on April 2, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News File photo

MANILA--The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a grim death toll in the Philippines. The number of fatalities hit 6,321 on October 11. This total is double the number of recorded and confirmed COVID-19 deaths just a month and a half ago. 

ABS-CBN Data Analytics

This chart prepared by the ABS-CBN Data Analytics team, based on data from the Philippines' Department of Health (DOH), shows more are dying despite the supposed gains from experience in battling the virus since March.

ABS-CBN Data Analytics

Looking at this chart on daily reported COVID-19 deaths, and the 7-day moving average of confirmed fatalities, we see more deaths are being reported each day, coinciding with the easing of lockdown restrictions. COVID-19 has become more deadly in the Philippines in spite of the knowledge and experience our government and healthcare workers have after fighting this disease for months.

There are other factors to consider. This may be attributed to the late registration of deaths, as recorded by the Philippine Statistics Authority in the first half, and discussed and analyzed in detail in an earlier article.

ABS-CBN Data Analytics

But there is also a worrying trend developing over the last few days. On October 11, the DOH announced 83 deaths, the fourth straight day of more than 80 fatalities reported. Some are indeed deaths from previous months, but a substantial portion of the reported deaths are coming from October.

As a result, the number of COVID-19 fatalities in the Philippines is growing faster than the number of cases confirmed, raising the case fatality rate of the Philippines to its highest level since August 4.

ABS-CBN Data Analytics

Looking at case fatality by region in the Philippines, we find the National Capital Region’s (NCR) rate at 1.75% closely approximates the national average. This is because NCR has the most confirmed cases at 173,917, and the most number of deaths at 3,046. The other regions may have higher case fatality rates due to other factors, such as a lower number of COVID-19 cases overall, and less developed healthcare systems.

ABS-CBN Data Analytics

The Philippines has the second highest number of COVID-19 deaths in Southeast Asia, behind only Indonesia. The two nations are the only ones in the region with death totals in the thousands.

On August 24, when the COVID-19 death toll in the Philippines breached the 3,000-mark, the ABS-CBN Data Analytics Team took a closer look at Senator Joel Villanueva’s inquiries on why so many are dying from COVID-19 in the Philippines. On the same day, Vice President Leni Robredo also highlighted this statistic. DOH data then showed over half of the COVID-19 deaths on record were people who never got proper hospital care.

ABS-CBN Data Analytics

As of October 11, the number of COVID-19 deaths that were never admitted to a hospital has more than doubled since then to 3,388. That is nearly 400 more fatalities compared to the 2,933 total COVID-19 deaths who received hospital care. 

This chart also shows there are over 1,171 critical COVID-19 cases that have never been admitted to a hospital, or 75%.

In other words, despite the inquiries of government officials in August, the government and hospitals in general have been unable to get critical COVID-19 cases admitted.

ABS-CBN Data Analytics

These sad situations also persisted despite evidence showing hospital capacity was more than adequate to accommodate more COVID-19 cases. As of October 10, only 1 region in the Philippines had an intensive care unit (ICU) bed occupancy over the danger zone threshold of 70%, CARAGA. Everywhere else, hospitals have vacant ICU beds to spare for COVID-19 patients. 

Something else is keeping COVID-19 patients from receiving the care they need to survive the disease.

Who is dying from COVID-19?

ABS-CBN Data Analytics

As of October 11, a great majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases (or 2 out of 3) come from the age range of between 20 and 49 years old. Nearly 100,000 cases can be found between the ages of 25 and 34 alone. 

ABS-CBN Data Analytics

The data also show these ages have the lowest case fatality rates in the Philippines. This information mirrors evidence around the world, showing young adults and adults are the most likely to contract the disease without dying. That also means they help spread the disease. That is bad news for the most vulnerable, senior citizens. The data show Filipinos aged 50 years and above have a higher chance of dying from COVID-19 than the national average.

ABS-CBN Data Analytics

The high incidence of COVID-19 in young adults and adults, coupled with the high vulnerability of seniors, has resulted in more than 80% of the reported COVID-19 deaths coming from the ages 50 and above. This also means a large chunk of the fatalities that never make it to a hospital are senior citizens. It is heartbreaking to think of how many elderly loved ones have passed on because of this pandemic without receiving the appropriate care.

If the number of deaths doubled between August and October, it can easily do so again between now and December. Authorities were already warned of the alarming number of deaths involving patients who never received hospital care. Senator Villanueva continues to ask health authorities why this continues to be the case. Vice President Robredo has also sounded the alarm. Yet the number of such cases doubled as well. 

Flattening the curve by preventing the younger population from spreading the disease using measures such as face masks, face shields, and physical distancing is key. There is evidence of this already working considering the slowing in daily reported cases. This is a great development, especially for the vulnerable elderly. But authorities also need to ensure critical COVID-19 patients receive the appropriate care. There’s no telling how many lives might have been saved if this was standard operating procedure. It should be, regardless of the circumstances.