Non-disclosure under public health emergency

Bacolod City Health Officer Dr. Carmela Gensoli is being investigated for violating RA 11332 or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act” by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) upon the complaint of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV).

This was a law passed in 2018, under the 17th Congress, way before the COVID-19 pandemic became known to the world. I guess the law was passed to safeguard the public under highly communicable diseases, not knowing that the law would come into play just a year and a half later when the coronavirus became known.

According to news reports, the CHO allegedly failed to report some 90 COVID-positive patients who were also not subjected to contact tracing between the periods of mid-September to mid-October, at the time when Bacolod was having a problem with its rising coronavirus cases.

If we just peg five people as possible close contacts of those 90 positive patients, we are looking at some 450 people who were probably infected but not tested which then, could have spread the virus to hundreds or thousands more if we base it on the multiplier effect.

If indeed the allegations are true, then Dr. Gensoli, as head of the CHO has violated the law that states public health authorities have an obligation to mandatorily report cases of public heart concern and rapid containment of cases through contact tracing, quarantine and isolation of patients and their contacts.

The source of the story according to reports, which sounds to me, must be a staffer of the Emergency Operations Center claimed that “because of some intervention of Dr. Gensoli, the data went missing and the EOC’s data was also compromised because of that particular action of Gensoli as CHO.”

Hmmm. If we recall, Gensoli took a leave of absence following also several controversies such as the alleged overpriced Vitamin A procurement and the x-ray requirement for travel permits. She has gone back to work I was told, but not at the CHO but as part of the city’s economic recovery committee.

When I read the charges, I wondered why was there a need to shave-off cases from the total report when 90 cases would have been minuscule for that period considering we are reaching hundreds of positives on a daily basis at that time.

Did those cases involve affluent personalities that refused to be brought to quarantine facilities? Because by this time, home quarantine became a no-no, and regardless of your status, anyone who tested positive must submit themselves to be quarantined in a public facility or in hotels that were converted to isolation facilities, which of course you have to pay for.

I am supposing this because I could not see what else could be the reason for non-disclosure of those 90 cases. It is equally stupid to do such because while the CHO gets laboratory results, the same is also forwarded to the DOH, thus shaving off or non-reporting of cases will still be discovered.

Another source told me that this alleged withholding of information supposedly irked Ret. Gen. Mel Feliciano who was then establishing the EOC, purportedly to accomplish the mission he was sent here to do – that is curbing the virus in our city.

There must be some truth to this for why else would the complaint stem from the OPAV and not from the EOC itself? Was this, in fact, the reason also why the former CHO was not assigned back to her own department?

It is actually a slap to the city government and the EOC that it took the OPAV to file this complaint when it happened right on their own doorstep and at a time when there is nothing else the city has been doing outside of fighting the pandemic.

It is also a slap against President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Bong Go whom Mayor Bing Leonardia always praise for their quick response to our crisis by sending the OPAV, the very agency who now holds the CHO accountable for messing up what should otherwise be a comprehensive approach to containing the virus.

Those are very serious allegations and until Gensoli comes out to deny or justify those actions, the city’s COVID-19 situation will look like a joke for it means there are hundreds and even thousands out there who could have been carrying the virus and unknowingly spreading the same.

Under the law, the penalties are not that high, ranging from a fine of P20,000 to P50,000 or imprisonment of one month to six months. However, what will be more damaging is if found guilty, the Professional Regulation Commission has the authority to suspend or revoke the license to practice by any medical professional for violation of this law.

Furthermore, the Civil Service Commission also has the authority to suspend or revoke the civil service eligibility of the public servant who violated such and if the offense is committed by a public health facility or institution, in this case, the CHO that Gensoli used to head, the chief executive officer shall also be held liable.

It is command responsibility after all and the mayor, as head of the entire city government, may well be liable for this mess too.*

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