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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, June 24, 2020
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with Matè Espina

Lost in translation (transportation?)

Rock & Refuge

Is there a possibility that there can be more COVID-19 cases in our community than what has been reported?

This came to mind when I received a document from a friend whose father died of pneumonia and other complications last April. After getting a run-around from the hospital, the City Health Office and the Western Visayas Medical Center laboratory while following up on her father’s swab results, she finally sent out a plea to the president’s 8888 hotline.

I’ve never been a believer of the hotline as I know it can be used by malicious people whose intent is not to report corruption or service complaints from government agencies and officials but for their own personal agenda. Nevertheless, it has served its purpose to many, including in the investigation and filing of cases against erring officials in relation to the SAP distribution.

In my friend’s case, after over a month of not getting any response from concerned agencies, she reported it to the hotline. She got a narrative of what happened to her father’s swabs but instead of answers, it raised more questions.

My friend is an overseas worker, employed in a health facility in the Middle East. She came home for the holidays and got locked down here. Mid-April, her father got confined at the CLMMRH for respiratory issues. Since it was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, her father got swabbed on April 15 but expired April 18 before results got back.

They were told their father’s death was not COVID-related, thus they were able to bring his remains home for the allowable 3-day wake before burial. It would have been the end of the story until a staffer from the CHO visited the family, advised them to undergo the 14-day mandatory quarantine period, and worse, posted pictures of the home and family members on social media and got bashed in return.

After finishing quarantine, the family followed up their father’s results but were surprised to be told it has not arrived almost three weeks later. My friend needed that result as part of her documentary evidence when she gets a schedule to finally return back to work overseas.

To make the long story short, the evidentiary documents showed that indeed, her father was swabbed April 15, specimen of which was endorsed to the CHO that is tasked to transport it to the lab in Iloilo on April 17.

The Iloilo lab sorted out specimens in their “Inactivation Room” on April 19 and recorded that there was no specimen for the patient. The following day the report was escalated to the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (RESUs) of DOH Region 6.

Another consolidated discrepancy report for endorsement of actions was made April 24 that included my friend’s father. That’s where the trail ended with a letter from the WVMC laboratory stating that they did receive a set of swabs from the Bacolod CHO on April 17 but “we ran out of supplies and consumables” thus delayed the processing of tests on April 20, only to find out that this particular patient has “NO SAMPLE.”

Furthermore, investigation showed that my father’s friend was just one among 22 patients in that batch that all registered without samples. Since these cases are not reported, we do not know who among these 22 were positive or not of the coronavirus. As in my friend’s case, they will never know because he passed away before they could conduct another test.

After making calls to some medical practitioners in various hospitals here, there were more stories of swabs getting lost, misplaced, some disappearing altogether and entered into the DOH testing portals as “no specimen found.” In fact, one shipment containing allegedly 30 plus swab samples from various health facilities here went missing as well just a few weeks ago.

In short, there is a breakdown in the system but even after investigation, it remains untraceable. As I pointed out to my friend, it couldn’t have been from the hospital for why would it go through all the trouble of testing, sealing the swab and send it to CHO for transport to the lab.

I wonder what the process is for the CHO. Do they check that samples from hospitals are actually present before transporting it or was the breakdown during the transport as one doctor said they’ve heard stories of boxes of samples left behind on sea vessels? Or is the laboratory washing their hands off this case and not admitting that the fault can be from their end.

We will never know now as it is difficult to point where the fault lies. But fact is, there is a breakdown and it’s not just one patient, it involves many. And the other fact is, our health officials are not transparent about this matter.

We have been claiming there is no local transmission of the virus, but with this, how sure are we?*

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