THE chairman of the House committee on Metro Manila development on Thursday vowed to support additional budget for contact tracing as he pushed for the development of a unified contact tracing application that could harmonize anti-COVID-19 efforts across all local government units (LGUs).
“I envision this single, unified app like a hybrid wiki accessible to the public, health workers and the government and can be verified in a seamless and timely manner. Lahat nandito na, contact tracing, tele-consultation, request for testing, and monitoring,” said Manila Rep. Manny Lopez a day after his committee’s five-hour mixed physical and virtual hearing about contact tracing and testing in Metro Manila, Wednesday afternoon.
“As I said during the hearing to DICT Dir. Gian Carlo Ignacio yesterday (Wednesday), time is of the essence here. We cannot afford to be lax. Making an app at this point in time would be crucial in containing the pandemic,” the legislator added.
Stressing that community involvement is paramount in the fight against the coronavirus, Lopez noted that the application should allow ordinary Filipinos to get the help they need in just a few clicks.
The public, he added, should be able to input symptoms in the app, subject for verification, and request tele-consultation, testing, and admission to hospitals.
“In essence, the system will bridge the public to health care providers and the government. This app should be free and accessible. The government will shoulder the cost of server charges, and will take care of validating public disclosures, managing public requests, and coordinating with healthcare professionals and healthcare institutions,” Lopez said.
During the hearing, Ignacio said that DICT is “working on integrating” the six systems they are currently “supporting.” These are Kira COVID, Telemed, StaySafe, COVIDKaya, TanodCovid, and FASSSTER.
Even the contact tracing czar and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Usec. RJ Echiverri lamented how LGUs have a hard time using different applications and systems for COVID-19.
“That is precisely what the local governments are asking. Masyadong marami raw tayong app (We have a lot of apps)… Kasi pag masyadong marami, nakakalito,” Echiverri said at the hearing.
“I wish we can only have one particular data collection tool sana. Para wala nang double-encoding… Because it delays our action, pati ‘yung even our analysis natin nade-delay din,” Magalong said. “That is my appeal to you.”
Lopez, on the other hand, assured both Ignacio and Magalong that the committee is willing to support additional funding for contact tracing efforts if needed.
The House-approved Bayanihan to Recover As One Act provides P5 billion for contact tracing needs, which will be utilized by the DILG, the lead agency on contact tracing of COVID-19 patients.
“The operable word that you are mentioning is of course, ‘yung awareness dahil karamihan po ng ating mga stakeholder hindi po nalalaman ‘yung atin pong solusyon dito sa pandemya. ‘Yung pinapaliwanag ho ninyo, kailangan po ang suporta ng lahat ng sector, magmula po sa LGU, sa sambayanang Pilipino, sa gobyerno,” Lopez told Magalong.
“Noon pong nakaraang linggo pinasa po ng Kongreso ‘yung Bayanihan Act II na kung saan kayo po ay nabigyan po ng P5 bilyong piso for hiring of contact tracers. Sa tingin po namin, kung ‘yan po ay ‘di pa sapat ay dinggin lang po ninyo sa amin kung ‘yan po ang magiging problema…” he added.
In Metro Manila, Magalong noted that the contact tracing ratio of 1:3 from July 28 to August 3 has improved to 1:5 from August 11 to 18.
Magalong admitted that some LGUs have failed in contact tracing efforts due to the overwhelming number of daily cases and their prioritization of relief operations and establishment of isolation facilities.
The Baguio Mayor also blamed lack of funds for contact tracers – a problem which the government aims to address under the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021.
Aside from contact tracing, the House panel also tackled updates on testing efforts in Metro Manila. Department of Health National Capital Region Dir. Corazon Flores reported that the agency conducted 318, 961 RT-PCR tests in the metropolis as of August 22. Forty-two testing facilities have also been built in NCR.
In conclusion, Lopez committed that the committee will continue to hear the concerns of The Task Force in charge of contact tracing, as well as support improvements in analog (physical) and digital contact tracing in LGUs to combat COVID-19. The panel chair also underscored the need for community engagement and educating the Filipino people.
“Let us engage our communities by first educating them. Let us educate our people on the modes of infection. Let us educate our people on the safety measures they should take and the situations they should avoid,” Lopez said in his closing speech.
“We must espouse to our countrymen that this simple self-imposed discipline and strict adherence to isolation protocols will go a long way in controlling the spread of this disease,” he added.