The World Health Organization (WHO) acting representative to the Philippines urged the government to work harder and speed-up its slow contact tracing of individuals who came in close contact with COVID-19 patients.
“I would say we are slow… we need to push harder, and we really need to work harder,” Dr. Socorro Escalante told an online forum by the Philippine College of Physicians.
Contact tracing usually takes 13 days from the time patient is admitted to a hospital, and test results are confirmed and sent to local epidemiology authorities.
“By that time, we have already spread the infection to many people, and that’s really very, very late,” said Escalante.
She also asked the Philippine government to begin the contact tracing once a suspect COVID-19 case visits a hospital and not wait until test results were confirmed.
According to the Department of Health, a suspect case could be: a person with severe acute respiratory illness; a person with influenza-like illness; a person with influenza-like illness and has had contact with a confirmed or probable case; and a person with fever or cough or shortness of breath or other respiratory symptoms and belonged to “vulnerable” group.
Slow contact tracing in the Philippines
Dr. Alethea De Guzman of the Department of Health’s epidemiology bureau said the country had the machinery to conduct “rigorous contact tracing” but implementation had been inconsistent.
“Delay in contact tracing needs to be addressed because otherwise, we are not going to catch up with the transmission the virus,” she warned.
“Bottomline is we have the capacity and the system, but we need to make that system function well. A half-functional system is not going to help us beat COVID-19.”
De Guzman cited several factors affecting the contact tracing, including incomplete entries and illegible handwriting of patients on case investigation forms, delays in encoding, and lack of electronic information system.
“Paper-based information system is not working. COVID proved this to us,” she told the forum.
“There is no such thing as real-time information sharing, but we can make it as close (as possible).”
De Guzman, however, said the government is now working on a contact tracking application that could cut the 13-day process to 2 days.