(Updated as of 11:00 AM, August 15)
In the past months, the Department of Health (DOH) had been a subject of criticisms not only on the way it handled Coronavirus Disease (COVID) -19 pandemic but also COVID-19 related-data. Satires surfaced saying the DOH is a very good doctor not of the disease but of the data.
In fairness, there are also good doctors and employees in the Health Department. Unfortunately, there are people there that simply suck at their jobs. And the most unfortunate thing is: These people have the trust of the higher ups who also would not admit that they, too, suck.
Then, this morning, I was surprised to see that the data mess is still as it is — a mess. While the DOH Center for Health Development in Bicol (DOH CHD-Bicol) reports low numbers the DOH Central Office-maintained COVID-19 tracker offers a bigger one. As of August 14, the DOH CHD-Bicol claims the number of cases in Region 5 is only 794 whole the NCOV Tracker says it is 997.
Comparing the details, newly confirmed cases according to the regional office is only 14 while that in the Tracker is 51. Further, total number of deaths is 21 according to the former while the latter maintains it is 10.
If we are living in a pre-Internet and pre-air transportation era, and with the distance between Manila and Bicol, the discrepancy is acceptable. In fact, our epigrams agree. When one says “Patay kung bata ka” in Manila, it becomes “Gadan kung gurang ka” in Bicol. But that was before. We are now living in a wired and “WiFi’ed” world with all our decisions governed by information.
We have emailed the DOH and we are still waiting for a response. In the DOH CHD-Bicol Page, though, we are told that the number that the regional office produces are based only on the reports of the Bicol Regional Diagnostic and Reference Laboratory (BRDRL) and the Bicol Medical Center (BMC). So be it.
But, imagine if the 997 is true and, with the Hatid-Probinsiya and Sundo-Kababayan Programs of our local governments, some of these COVID-19-infected individuals not included in the local database happen to return to Bicol and started roaming around. Are we not in for a Coronavirus-spreading frenzy?
We are also after a complete number of cases to help in the contact tracing, as well as to provide a warning to communities to refrain from going out of their houses and prevent the spread of the virus. Without such information, and given the general community quarantine, we may be in for a nightmare.
I would tend to believe that the numbers of the regional office is correct. We do not want more COVID-19 cases in the region. Unfortunately, and as admitted, the locally generated data is still incomplete. Hopefully, the statistics/data managers of the regional and central offices talk to each other and coordinate properly to ensure that what the DOH releases are not confusing, complete and reliable data.
A number of DOH guys both at the local and national levels are doing difficult but important tasks. However, their efforts will just be useless if we remain groping in the dark. Note that the battle against COVID-19 is not just the battle of DOH alone but also of other health organizations and entities, local government units and even ordinary citizens. And to win that battle, we need information to shed light, and to guide everyone on what path to take or decision to make. We are already in a wired and even “WiFi’ed” world. It will make a lot of difference if the units in the health department do an extra mile and talk at each other and provide us with the information that we just need.