'Uncertainty' in COVID Data Must Be Addressed, Says Health Official

Proper response depends on complete information.
Photo/s: Hans Pennink/Associated Press

The Philippines needs to fill data gaps to sharpen its pandemic response, a health official said, as the government moved to unwind seven-month-old restrictions. The "uncertainty in evidence" can't be ignored, she said.

For one, data on people returning to their home provinces, whether from Metro Manila or from abroad, is insufficient, said Anna Melissa Guerrero, head of the  Department of Health's Health Technology Bureau.

On Monday night, Cabinet officials reported to President Rodrigo Duterte that while cases in Metro Manila are going down, numbers in some provinces are spiking.

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"We cannot just simply ignore the uncertainty in the evidence. We cannot just go about doing our businesses doing things blindly without intelligence. I would argue that [scientific] evidence is still our best weapon versus COVID-19."

The Food and Drug Administration doesn't have clear standards on COVID-19 diagnostic technologies, she said. In May, medical groups opposed the use of blood-based rapid test kits to determine who are fit to return to work.

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During the webinar where Guerrero spoke, participants also cited the design weaknesses of existing clinical studies on the virus, as well as dependence on non-peer reviewed research.

"Although the urgency of the situation may have pushed our clinicians and decision-makers to desperation, to trial treatments which we do not know will work, we need to continue to safeguard our scientific methods to ensure our patients get evidence-based health care," she said. 

"In a complex problem health problem like COVID-19 where you have this big fog of uncertainty, disagreements will surely arise. What is important is to openly discuss these uncertainties. Let the experts and stakeholders debate their questions so that we can arrive at solutions that could work for everyone," said Guerrero. 

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In the last five days alone, authorities allowed the resumption of leisure travel abroad, the return of shopping mall sales, the widening of the age bracket for those who can leave the house and an increase in capacity for churches, mosques and trains.

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