'Garbage in, garbage out': Senators slam DOH for erroneous COVID-19 data

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 13) — Several lawmakers on Wednesday criticized the Department of Health for publishing alarming errors on COVID-19 patients, warning it could lead to more lives lost during the pandemic.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said if the DOH is providing inaccurate data to President Rodrigo Duterte and other members of the COVID-19 task force, the government is bound to make grave mistakes when it comes to crafting policies.

"Garbage in, garbage out. If DOH is feeding garbage data to decision makers, expect garbage decisions from government. Accurate data and information is fundamental in governance," he said in a statement.

Senator Franklin Drilon said these mistakes, whether inadvertently committed or not, lead to loss of trust that the government can properly respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

"Questions on the accuracy of the DOH data, and violations of the rules and abuses by law enforcers, erode the confidence of the people in the IATF and its ability to contain the pandemic," he said.

Senator Ralph Recto added, "DOH data errors do not breed confidence."

A team of experts from the University of the Philippines is seeking better reporting of the government's COVID-19 data. The UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team pointed out dozens of "alarming errors" when it comes to DOH's report on COVID-19 patients' age, sex, location, and health status. For instance, a patient reported by the DOH as dead on April 24 was no longer among the fatalities listed the next day. They called on the government to make the data accessible to all relevant stakeholders so cross-validation could be done.

RELATED: Experts see 'alarming errors' in DOH's coronavirus data

Senator Panfilo Lacson condemned the top officials of DOH for its blunders during a crucial period where public health is in crisis.

"There is no room for officials who, because of sheer incompetence or corrupt thinking, will endanger our lives that we practically entrust to them. This is not the first time that the DOH leadership is being challenged to prove itself or leave their posts if they cannot be up to their job," he said in a statement.

Majority of senators in April sought the immediate resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for what they said was his inefficient response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Duque acknowledged the inconsistencies in data as pointed out by the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team. He said DOH is working to correct the mistakes and avoid making the same errors in the future.

"I’ve already instructed Undersecretary Rosette Vergeire to look into this problem and correct the inconsistencies and ensure the corrective interventions are put into place so as to avoid these data inconsistencies," he said in a media briefing on Wednesday.

He said the errors were from the DOH's Epidemiology Bureau, explaining that there were some incomplete data on case investigation forms that led to the mistakes.

Much of the Philippines is under general community quarantine until May 15 to prevent further spread of COVID-19, which so far has infected 11,350 people and killed 751. Metro Manila and several provinces are under stricter quarantine measures.

Metro Manila, Laguna province, and Cebu City will be placed under "modified" enhanced community quarantine from May 16 to May 31, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced Tuesday. He explained the threat of COVID-19 is still present in these three high-risk areas, but some rules will be relaxed to slowly open up the country's economy.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the transition was based on the improvement in the country's case doubling time, as health officials found that it now takes seven to 30 days before the number of infections double.