A total of 238,000 contact tracers have so far been deployed nationwide to track and manage the close contacts of confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) patients, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said on Wednesday.
“Sa ngayon, meron tayong 238,000 contact tracers at karamihan dito ay mga volunteers and augmentation mula sa PNP (Philippine National Police) at sa BFP (Bureau of Fire Protection) at saka sa AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). So normally, they work kung saan sila nagvo-volunteer pero itong mga contact tracers natin na ito na-deploy natin ito all around the regions (We have 238,000 contact tracers at present and most of them are volunteers and augmentation personnel of the PNP, BFP, and AFP. Normally, they work in places where they have volunteered but these contact tracers were deployed to the regions),” Año said in a television interview.
He added that some 50,000 contact tracers would be deployed to prevent the further spread of the virus.
“We are ready to deploy them. We have 20,000 in Luzon, 15,000 in the Visayas, and 15,000 in Mindanao. While they will be hired on a per-province basis, they will be deployed within their region because most of the time, a big percentage of Covid-19 cases are from the barangays or cities. This is to reinforce the present number of contact tracers,” Año said.
He thanked Congress for appropriating PHP5 billion for contact tracing under the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2), saying that this would finally allow the department to significantly ramp up contract tracing efforts across the country to cut the transmission of Covid-19.
Año said the additional funds would help the government undertake aggressive contact tracing, active case surveillance, and case finding, which is a pillar of the National Action Plan against the pandemic.
“We wish to thank Senate President Tito Sotto, Senators Ralph Recto, Grace Poe, Sonny Angara and all the other senators who championed this cause, as well as the members of the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Allan Cayetano, for this significant shot in the arm for our country’s contact tracing program,” said the vice-chairperson of the National Task Force Covid-19.
Dr. Takeshi Kasai, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) office for Western Pacific, and Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO country representative, have recommended to the DILG the ramping up of contact tracing efforts as part of the WHO’s continuing documentation of the country’s best practices in response to the pandemic.
The WHO has recognized as a best practice the new contact tracing system developed by Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, which combined digital technology and cognitive interviews by contact tracers.
Through the DILG, Magalong has been sharing the new system with other local government units.
DILG spokesperson, Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, credited the success of the Covid-19 response in Metropolitan Cebu and Baguio City to aggressive contact tracing.
Malaya said the additional contact tracers would be trained by the DILG’s Local Government Academy (LGA) on how to use the “cognitive interviewing technique”, which is similar to the questioning technique employed by the police to retrieve information about a crime from eyewitnesses and victims.
“Our LGA and PPSC (Philippine Public Safety College) have developed four modules in our training program and we will ensure that all those hired will be trained,” he said.
Malaya attributed the success in Cebu City to the creation of cluster clinics, barangay isolation centers, and quarantine facilities; deployment of additional contact tracing teams; and expanded testing.
He agreed that technology must be used in contact tracing, just like in other countries, but manual contact tracing must be done hand in hand with the use of digital technology “because we cannot completely rely on digital applications.”
“All countries use both manual and digital technology. There are also limitations in just using technology because not everybody has a smartphone, which is what is required in digital contact tracing. And even those with smartphones, compatibility with Android with IOS is another problem. The phone owner should also always update the status of his health, which needs cooperation from users,” he said.
Source: Philippines News Agency