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DOH Eyes Alternative Work For Contact Tracers

DOH Eyes Alternative Work For Contact Tracers
File photo shows a contact tracer getting the profile of a resident in Barangay UP Campus in Quezon City on Aug. 4, 2021 after an area was placed under special concern lockdown due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. Photo by Michael Varcas, The Philippine STAR

With contact tracing no longer a priority intervention in areas with high transmission of COVID-19 cases, the Department of Health (DOH) is looking at deploying contact tracers to do other activities.

According to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, contact tracing is still part of the strategy in areas where the spread of the virus is low.

“But if you are in a high transmission area, the efforts of contact tracers will have to be (shifted) to other activities like home isolation and quarantine monitoring and symptom monitoring,” he said in a television interview on Friday, Jan. 14.

Duque noted that contact tracers can also be tapped to implement minimum public health standards in the communities, complementing the vaccination teams.

“They need to help because we need to ramp up our vaccination coverage. There are so many things that they can do,” he said.

Duque underscored that in high transmission areas like the National Capital Region, contact tracing could be overtaken by the rapid spread of infection.

“We we’re not saying it has become unnecessary, it is still very necessary especially in low transmission areas so we can cut the chain of transmission,” he added.

Free COVID tests

COVID-19 tests, if done at the government-operated laboratories, should be free of charge to the public, according to Sen. Sonny Angara, chair of the Senate committee on finance.

Angara said that under the P5.024-trillion General Appropriations Act for 2022, there is P17.85 billion in “COVID-19 Laboratory Network Commodities,” which can be tapped for the pro-vision of free tests.

For those who opt to do their tests with privately operated labs, Angara said these could be subsidized by the government through the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

Sorsogon Gov. Francis Escudero hit the DOH for rejecting contact tracing and mass testing as part of its COVID-19 response strategy. 

“What DOH is doing is not a ‘COVID-19 response strategy’ but a complete abdication and surrender,” said Escudero. “It’s a strategy of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them. This is big mistake and a costly one.”

Misleading

Meanwhile, Sen. Nancy Binay called out PhilHealth for misleading its members about the availability of a “home treatment” package for COVID-positive patients.

She said patients who do not want to stay in community isolation units or health facilities and opted for home quarantine tried to avail themselves of PhilHealth’s COVID-19 Home Isolation Benefit Packages (CHIBP) only to find out that there are only six listed accredited providers in the country, none of which are in the National Capital Region.

“Our countrymen should not be allowed to hope for nothing. They’re (COVID-19 cases) already sick. It feels like you’re being scammed. They (PhilHealth) have been promoting this (home treatment package) for a year but it’s nothing,” Binay said in Filipino.

The senator said she discovered the gaps in the CHIBP’s implementation this week upon exploring the PhilHealth’s website to find out how members could avail of the package. – With Paolo Romero