MANILA — Because government communicators reporting on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic are wont to debunk the Philippine status compared to other countries, the result is more of a propaganda work than relaying the message scientifically.
“Sa tingin ko more on propaganda work, e. Ang nakikita ko kasi ang reporting sa ibang countries, like Italy at sa Germany, ang istilo nila, scientific communication. Sinasabi nila kung ano ‘yong tunay, sinasabi nila kung may namamatay at nagre-recruit sila ng medical expert para i-correct iyon, kasi limitasyon ‘yon, e,” Dr. Tony Leachon, public health expert and former member of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), answered when asked whether or not the government communicators are doing propaganda in reporting about the pandemic.
(In my view, it’s more on propaganda work. The reporting that I am seeing in other countries, like Italy and in Germany, their style, scientific communication. They are telling what is true, they are telling if there are dead people and they recruit medical experts in order to correct that, since it is a limitation.)
Leachon, in an interview in the DZRH Special On Saturday (SOS) program on Aug. 8, was actually reacting to a featured report wherein Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was debunking the notion that the Philippines has now the most number of COVID-19 cases compared to Indonesia, the country that consistently occupy the top with the most number of infected individuals in Southeast Asia, for the past weeks.
In the Facts and Figures report in the DZRH SOS program, Roque said: “Dahil mas maigting ang ating pagtetest, hindi po totoo na mas maraming kaso tayo kay sa Indonesia. Hindi lang nalalaman ng mga Indonesian kung sinu-sino sa mga umiikot ang meron ng sakit.”
(Because we further intensified our testing, it is not true that we have more cases than Indonesia. The Indonesians did not know who are those going around and already ill.)
On Aug. 7, the Philippines logged 122,754 COVID-19 cases, while Indonesia recorded 118,753 COVID-19 cases based on the record of the Department of Health and the John Hopkins University.
“Ngayon kung gagawin mo siya na parang propaganda work that you have to debunk, let’s say na sasabihin na number one tayo, e hindi nagdya-jive to the other action plan e. Puno ang hospital, nagkukulang ang doctor, mga medical communities nag-beg na ng timeout last week,” Leachon said.
(Now if you make that like propaganda work that you have to debunk, let’s say that saying we are number one, it does not jive to the other action plan. Hospitals are full, shortage of doctors, the medical communities begged for timeout last week.)
He said the way the COVID-19 communications are handled “betrays the messaging and also creates messaging problems to the public” because the message is not aligned with the actual action which is the imposition of the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).
Leachon said that it is okay to accept that the Philippine is the number one with COVID-19 cases if at the same time the increasing healthcare capacity, increased testing, the presence of Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong for contact tracing, the establishment of command center and more isolation areas are projected.
He noted that in the last five days the cases in the City of Manila have been going down and recoveries are going up because of the pro-active initiative of the local government unit (LGU) like free testing.
Leachon agrees that the Philippines at this time has most number of testing facilities in Southeast Asia because the nation’s healthcare capacity has been built up but he said these testing facilities are used to know the sick and the healthy.
He said in testing, the World Health Organization has set the normal value of positivity rate at 5 percent and beyond this it is considered local transmission,
“Pagnag-testing po tayo dadami talaga ang makikita natin. Pero may allowable po tayong positivity rate. Ang positivity rate natin ngayon ay 9.8 percent, ibig sabihin lampas po ng 4 percent. Ibig sabihin, ‘yong sosobra sa 5 percent local transmission po yan,” Leachon explained.
(When we do testing, we will really see increase in our cases. But we have allowable positivity rate. Our positivity rate now is 9,8 percent, which means we surpassed more than 4 percent. It means, the excess of 5 percent local transmission.)
Leachon cited the case of Cebu where the positivity rate reached 33 percent in June but when the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) was imposed for one month the positivity rate went down to around 7 percent.
He said the situation in Cebu was fixed which means there is a silver lining when you do many testing to show the magnitude compared to the population size and identify the positive cases to separate them and bring them to quarantine facilities.