On May 5 and 6, the Department of Health announced that the Philippines is beginning to flatten the Coronavirus disease-19 (Covid-19) curve. Health Undersecretary Dr. Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire and Dr. John Wong, an epidemiologist with the Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF), said that the country was able to slowdown the increase of Covid-19 cases.
But, has the Philippines really started to flatten the curve?
While Usec Vergeire was doing the virtual presser, I was talking to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Officer (PDRRMO) Van Torrevillas of Samar Province. Mr. Torrevillas shared that there are already cases in his area and fears that the figures might increase once the Covid Testing Center in Cebu releases the results. Note that there are still no DOH certified Covid Testing Center in the Eastern Visayas Region.
Other local officials from other regions also share the worries of Mr. Torrevillas. Because mass testing is not yet conducted, they are not certain yet if they have really controlled the spread of the virus. Everyone could be a carrier and waiting everyday is but a ticking time bomb.
Immediately, I checked the Covid-19 numbers. Unfortunately, daily incidence chart from the coronatracker.com could not provide any evidence of a flattened, or at least a flattening, curve to that effect. What I see is an erratic chart with numbers that that show no indication of stabilizing. Yet.
To flatten the curve, University of Washington researcher Carl T. Bergstrom posits that the control measures set in place must have slowed down the spread of the virus and reduced the burden on hospitals. Hence, I checked the checked the Global Health Security Index or GHSI — a comprehensive assessment and benchmarking of health security and related capabilities that covers 195 countries. Following Bergstrom, the Philippines must have a well-prepared health system that is ready to contain any virus that threatens the Filipinos.
Unfortunately, the Philippines is not among the most prepared countries in terms of health security ranking only 53rd among the 195 countries. Its overall score is only 47.6 out of 100. The highest is the United States with a score of 83.5. In terms of rapid response to and mitigation of the spread of an epidemic, the Philippines ranked 68th with a score of 43.8. United Kingdom ranks first in this category with a score of 91.9.
Consistently, the virus strained the country’s health care system even before the number of cases could peak. As of May 8, health care workers accounted for 18.23% or 1,886 of the total 10,343 coronavirus cases. While it can be argued that there is no cure yet for Covid-19, at least the numbers should be declining, and not increasing, because of the control measures. Sadly, that is not also the case.
These realities and the fact that the DOH is only doing selective Covid-testing leads to the question: How in the world did the DOH and IATF’s Dr. Wong came up with that “flattening of the curve” idea?
Sometime in February, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III announced that the Philippines is a model country in fighting Covid-19. Days later, the country’s cases blew up until the Philippines ranked first in Southeast Asia in terms of the number of Covid positive individuals. While in the last few days we settled at third rank having been overtaken by Singapore and Indonesia, our numbers still in the whole Southeast Asia. Is this “beginning to flatten the curve” announcement by the DOH another warning for bad things to come?
The DOH committed, among others, to perform its functions in accordance with the highest ethical standards, principles of accountability, and full responsibility. Nowhere in such commitment is the idea of distorting information and creating false hopes to boost the morale or satisfy the ego of some officials. May the department continue to honor such commitment and stop that “me and my big mouth” faux pas.