MANILA — The Department of Health on Monday said it will be imposing stricter guidelines in the submission of COVID-19 case files by laboratories and other reporting units, mulling possible sanctions against the non-compliant.
“Today, we will be issuing out a memo to all concerned laboratories so that all will be informed that this is really a requirement and it’s part of their licensing requirements,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters during a virtual briefing.
Vergeire said it was Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who said that disease reporting units who are not submitting reports should be sanctioned already because of the delays caused by incomplete forms and information.
“Obligasyon ng bawat reporting unit, especially, this is a public health emergency. It’s a notifiable disease itong COVID-19,” Vergeire said, citing Republic Act no. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Concern Act.
(This is the obligation of each reporting unit, especially this is a public health emergency. It’s a notifiable disease, this COVID-19.)
Asked what the sanctions would be, Vergeire said there will be warnings, suspension and those cited in the law.
Among the prohibited acts in RA 11332 is the non-operation of the disease surveillance and response systems, and the non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report and/or respond to notifiable diseases or health events of public concern.
Penalties include a fine of P20,000 to P50,000 or imprisonment of 1 month to 6 months.
Offenses committed by a facility will have the officer-in-charge being held liable.
“In addition, the business permit and license to operate of the concerned facility, institution, agency, corporation, school or legal entity shall be cancelled,” the law states.
Vergeire brought up the matter following the confusion on whether some provinces are still COVID-free.
In the DOH data drop, only Batanes had zero COVID cases last week despite Dinagat Islands, Quirino and Aurora claiming that they are also COVID-free.
Vergeire said they are still looking into the said provinces although 2 cases from Aurora were later tagged as repatriates and two other patients have missing information on their current address.
As of Aug. 9, only one patient was tagged under Aurora - a 24-year-old man who is also a repatriate, according to the DOH data drop analyzed by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group.
Vergeire explained that the case investigation form asks for the current and permanent address of a patient. Sometimes, the current address is not written on the form so reporting units refer to the permanent address instead. This, she said, often causes the confusion.
Other times, validation would show that the patient is a repatriate, and that he or she did not get infected in his home town.
Vergeire said validation and correction takes 2 to 3 days because of the need to call all relevant offices.
She also pointed out that they are still not receiving reports from 100% of the more than 100 COVID-19 accredited laboratories.
Many still submit incomplete information and many still e-mail their data instead of using the DOH’s centralized digital system, resulting in further delays due to encoding.
In the past months, the DOH also had to resort to data reconciliation efforts — including the 38,000 additional recoveries reported in a single day in July — to check for cases or status updates not forwarded to its central system.
“Hopefully with this kind of stricter enforcement when it comes to submissions, we can get accurate and timely data already,” Vergeire said, referring to the memo on sanctions that will be released.