SENATORS on Wednesday hit the Department of Health (DoH) for errors in coronavirus tracking data, saying such “incompetence” endanger the lives of the public.
Lawmakers issued the criticism as the agency reported 268 more infections yesterday, bringing the total to 11,618.
The death toll rose to 772 after 21 more patients died, it said in a bulletin. One hundred forty-five more patients have gotten well, bringing the total recoveries to 2,251, it added.
“There is no room for officials who, because of sheer incompetence or corrupt thinking, will endanger our lives that we practically entrust to them,” Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said in a statement.
Experts from the University of the Philippines have cited “a number of alarming patient-level inconsistencies, if not gross errors” in tracking data such as gender, age and residence.
The lapses “may seem small” compared with the daily data updates, but these have significant implications on reliability of scientific analyses on the pandemic, they said.
The Health department in a statement said the “alarming” errors had not affected the overall data on COVID-19 cases, adding that it had addressed discrepancy issues.
“We assure the public that the issues raised are a nominal percentage of the whole data set, and does not prejudice the overall interpretation of data and decision making,” DoH said.
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said the lapses could be reflected in measures crafted by Congress and the Executive department.
“Garbage in, garbage out,” he said in a statement. “If DoH is feeding garbage data to decision makers, expect garbage decisions from the government. Accurate data and information is fundamental in governance.”
Mr. Gatchalian said the law giving President Rodrigo R. Duterte special powers in dealing with the pandemic provides that buying medical equipment should be prioritized.
DoH could use technology to improve data collection, processing and analysis, he added.
DoH said it was coordinating with data engineers, scientists, specialists and other institutions in managing data.
“We acknowledge that the system is not perfect but we continue to improve our data collection and reporting systems,” it said. “DoH welcomes feedback as we respond to the information needs and the call for transparency from our fellow Filipinos in this national response against the COVID-19 pandemic,” it added.
It also said it would launch a digital epidemiological surveillance system developed with the World Health Organization that will automate data collection processes and minimize encoding errors.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III noted that while the errors might be small they have significant implications.
“Reliability of data is very important,” he said at an online news briefing.
In a policy note, published on May 8, the University of the Philippines COVID-19 pandemic response team flagged inconsistencies in official data between the DoH and local governments.
For example, DoH on May 3 reported seven deaths and 28 recoveries in Laguna, while the local government counted 22 deaths and 65 recoveries. The policy note also said 516 patients had their residences in a different city. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Vann Marlo M. Villegas