MANILA — While there are officially more than 13,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, there are actually over 19,000 people who have tested positive for the disease.
Since April, the Department of Health (DOH) had been attributing the disparity to its validation process.
But more than a month after, the gap between confirmed cases and positive individuals has gone up by 22 times since April 2, according to the ABS-CBN Data Analytics Team.
On April 2, the number of individuals who tested positive was at 2,904 or 271 lower than the confirmed cases of 2,633.
But by May 20, the total number of individuals who tested positive was already 19,321 or 6,100 more than the 13,221 reported confirmed cases. This means that only 68% of the individuals who tested positive have been confirmed.
The data cited here are from DOH. Positive individuals refer to those who underwent polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, results of which were processed by licensed COVID-19 laboratories.
The graph below prepared by the ABS-CBN Data Analytics Team using DOH data shows how the gap has continued to widen.
Some netizens have started to question the disparity.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Friday explained the long process required in validating cases.
“Ang validation po ng confirmed cases ay isang mahaba at masalimuot na prosesong kinakailangan pinaglalaanan ng mahabang oras upang masiguro na tama ang impormasyon at datos na ating inilalabas,” Vergeire said during a televised briefing.
(The validation of confirmed cases is a long and tedious process that requires a long time to ensure that the information and data we are releasing are correct.)
Vergeire explained the process of validating cases, which involves the Epidemiology Bureau (EB) collating patient information from various sources, including hospitals. Vergeire said any error would require them to go a step back to correct the data.
“Sa bawat step ng flow na yan hindi mawawala ang risk na maaaring magkaroon ng error sa information and data dahil sa iba’t ibang uncontrollable factors,” she said.
(For every step in the flow there is a risk of having errors in the information and data due to various uncontrollable factors.)
Vergeire enumerated the four issues they face that result in the delay in case validation:
1. Increased testing capacity leading to more cases for validation
2. Lack of disease surveillance officers (DSOs) to monitor cases, encode case investigation forms (CIF), and upload data
3. Possibility of duplicate cases based on similar sounding names
4. Possibility of duplicate cases based on retesting individuals
“Habang tumataas po ang bilang ng mga kasong pumapasok mas dumadami ang kailangang i-encode ng ating DSOs sa information system,” she pointed out.
(While the number of cases continue to increase, the information that DSOs would need to encode in the information system is also increasing.)
An insufficient number of encoders has caused problems for the country’s health sector. During the Holy Week, the DOH had to deal with its encoding backlogs.
And just recently, COVID-19 test results for repatriated Filipinos were delayed because the laboratory that ran the tests did not have enough encoders.
Vergeire cited similar names that cause delays their validation process. She said checking to make sure that the person has not already been added to the list requires calling the hospital or the patient.
“Ang mga ganitong bahagyang kaibahan sa mga pangalan ay hindi lang po paminsan-minsan nangyayari. Maraming pong beses itong nae-encounter ng mga officers na nagsasagawa ng validation kaya tumatagal po ang proseso ng pagvavalidate,” she said.
(These slight differences in names is not a rare occurrence. This is often encountered by our officers to do the validation that’s why the process of validation is being delayed.)
Just before the Holy Week, the DOH promised that it would be requiring hospitals and other facilities to submit their data online instead of through manual forms that delay the process.
But based on recent pronouncements of the DOH, the concerned units have yet to do away with manual forms.
Some groups like the University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team said the DOH should find ways to make the process more efficient, especially as the country is gearing up for expanded testing.
Dr. Peter Cayton, a professor at the UP School of Statistics and a member of the university’s response team, said they have been seeing that the “gap between the positive individuals tested and confirmed cases has been widening in recent days.”
Cayton said having a verification process is justified but “it might be that DOH is reaching a limit in its verification capacity.”
“There might need to add more manpower in terms of the verification process so that as more and more tests are being done we are having this expanded testing policy from the IATF,” he said.
Despite reaching a maximum of only around 11,000 tests a day, the government is targeting 30,000 tests a day by the end of May.
Secretary Carlito Galvez, who is now National Task Force against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVOD-19) chief implementer, said the government is fixing its supply chain and is stockpiling supplies enough for the operations of 50 testing centers in 30 days.
He said it should be enough for 30,000 tests a day.
But what happens if the DOH is unable to keep up with the test results?
Vergeire said they are continuing to look for solutions to speed up the validation process.
This includes efforts to push for the digitization of patient information. One solution is COVIDKAYA, digital information system being developed by the DOH with the World Health Organization. It is meant to minimize encoding errors by allowing patient data to be directly submitted digitally instead of through a manual form.
Vergeire said this is being used in Parañaque City and the Davao Region.
Despite such setbacks, the health official said they are optimistic that the target of 30,000 tests a day would be met by end of the month.