EDITORIAL- Skewed priorities
The Department of Health is reassuring the public that no one is getting VIP treatment in the use of scarce testing kits for the coronavirus disease 2019. The DOH reassurance flies in the face of declarations from certain politicians themselves that they took the COVID-19 test even if they were asymptomatic, and that they tested negative.
There are reports that about 34 government officials, most of them without symptoms, were given priority in the testing at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. The VIPs reportedly demanded to get their test results from the RITM within 24 hours, delaying for four days the results of the test on cardiologist Israel Bactol, who died of COVID on March 21.
Mass testing for COVID is the ideal, but it’s a luxury beyond the reach of the Philippines. The country has fewer than 200,000 testing kits, mostly donated, for its population of nearly 100 million. Clearly, priorities have to be set and the limited test kits must be used judiciously. The DOH has said asymptomatic people must not be tested and priority must be given to the immunocompromised including the elderly as well as frontline workers, particularly health professionals. So why are politicians even crowing about being tested even if they are asymptomatic?
Amid the criticism over skewed priorities, RITM director Celia Carlos was reported to have been sacked for refusing to grant the demands of VIPs to jump the line in COVID testing. In the ensuing public uproar, the DOH had to clarify that the RITM head would remain in her post, but would have a supervisor who, because of his rank as Cabinet assistant secretary, is expected to be the one calling the shots in the institute, including deciding on testing priorities.
One upside of the crisis is that it is showing the public the true nature of supposed servants of the people. It is showing the priorities of politicians, belying their claims of putting the interests of the public ahead of their own.