Philippines to Publicly Disclose Coronavirus Patients’ Personal Information

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

The Philippines will publicly disclose the personal information of patients who have tested positive for coronavirus to strengthen “contact tracing efforts,” in an effort deemed “mandatory” by the country’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases, Rappler reported on Sunday.

“The IATF adopts the policy of mandatory public disclosure of personal information relating to positive COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] cases to enhance the contact tracing efforts of the government,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a press conference on Sunday.

The decision marks a reversal of the IATF’s policy two weeks ago when the government had directed all health facilities to first get the consent of coronavirus patients before revealing their identities to the public.

The IATF will also transfer the responsibility of contact tracing – the process of tracing the individuals with whom coronavirus patients have made contact – from the Department of Health (DOH) to the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD). The DOH has previously been criticized for lapses in its contact tracing efforts.

“The OCD in coordination with other agencies and local government units shall herein lead the contact tracing efforts of the government,” Nograles said. The OCD and DOH are directed to enter into a “data-sharing agreement” for the contact tracing activities, guided by the provisions of a “Data Privacy Act.”

On April 5, the Philippines’ top doctors and lawyers called for the waiver of confidentiality of patients’ medical conditions to help the government’s contact tracing efforts, arguing that medical data confidentiality is “not absolute” and could be relaxed for public health safety.

In a joint statement, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Philippine Medical Association (PMA), and the Philippine College of Surgeons (PCS) urged people suspected of having coronavirus [People Under Investigation, or PUIs], and those confirmed to have it to “voluntarily waive” the confidentiality of their medical condition.

“Being diagnosed as COVID-19+ [Chinese coronavirus positive] is not a sin, a crime, or a stigma … Existing laws and rules grant the government sufficient authority and basis to lift the confidentiality of the medical condition of COVID-19+ [Chinese coronavirus positive] patients and PUI’s,” the joint statement said.

The groups also encouraged the DOH to “prudently” use and “promptly” share coronavirus patients’ medical information to allow the government to take precautionary actions against the spread of the coronavirus.

The number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines has increased significantly in recent weeks, leading the government to enact several measures, including a “total lockdown” of the main island of Luzon – where the capital, Manila, is located – in an effort to curb the virus’s spread. On April 7, the government announced that Luzon’s lockdown would be extended to at least April 30. It had originally been projected to last until April 12.

On Sunday, the DOH announced it would change its nomenclature for coronavirus patients. The previous categories of “persons under monitoring” (PUMs) and “patients under investigation” (PUIs) have been replaced with “suspect,” “probable,” and “confirmed” cases.

At press time on Monday, the Philippines had 4,932 infections and 315 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.


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