New Anti-COVID czar Magalong to 'radically’ change PH contact tracing system

On his first day as the Philippines’ new coronavirus tracing chief Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong said on Monday, July 13, that the country’s contact tracing system, a crucial initiative in efforts to curb the outbreak, will “radically” change in its structure. 

Gusto ko lang pong banggitin sa inyo na radically ay babaguhin po natin iyong structure ng ating contact tracing system. Ang itatawag po natin diyan is iyong “contact tracing ecosystem”…. It’s a partnership between health workers at iyong ating pong law enforcement investigators,” Magalong said during a press briefing in Malacañang. 

(I want to say that we will radically change the structure of our contact tracing system. We will call it the “contact tracing ecosystem”…. It’s a partnership between health workers and law enforcement investigators.)

Magalong made the statement after he was introduced as one of the country’s 3 new “Anti-COVID” czars on Monday. He was named along with Public Works Secretary Mark Villar who would take on the role as “isolation czar” and Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega who would serve as “treatment czar.”

In revamping the country’s contact tracing system, Magalong brings with him his experience as a local official at the frontlines of the outbreak and his years of investigative work as former chief of the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management. 

It’s this combination that allowed Magalong to strengthen Baguio City’s tracing strategy, which has been hailed by experts as a model other local government units can follow.

What Magalong plans: Improving the country’s contact tracing system will include skills training on two fronts, according to Magalong. 

First, would be to train tracers’ interviewing skills. Magalong said this would include teaching them proper ways of questioning as well as methods to help patients recall details of what they did at least 2 to 3 weeks before questioning so that they could trace contacts. 

The second component of skills training included teaching tracers to use the government’s new “contact tracing e-system,” which would collect data from contact tracing efforts.  

The digital system will also cover the use of a Geographical Information System which will allow tracers to visualize the extent of potential infections in a community. 

The system likewise included a “link analysis tool” to establish patters, relationships, and networks among cases which will allow tracers to track individuals who need to be contacted and followed up with for further information. 

Ang pinakaimportante po dito na qualification ay mayroon kahit papano pong tinatawag nating investigative mindset, iyong inquisitive iyong tao…Kaya naman nating i-train iyan,” he said. 

(The most important qualification [for tracers] is they have to have an investigative mindset, the person needs to be inquisitive….We can train that.)

Why this matters. Contact tracing remains one of the country's weakest areas of response to the outbreak, with latest data showing some 83,000 contact tracers were still needed. 

The World Health Organization has longed urged the country to beef up its tracing efforts alongside testing capacity as this would allow local government units to isolate possible cases before they can spread the virus.

Magalong said that along with more contact tracers, the government will also hire more encoders, analysts to study tracing data, and information technology graduates, to help support its contact tracing e-system. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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