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NEDA Pushes Digital Contact Tracing System in The Philippines’

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make its presence felt all over the world, news reports say that the Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has urged the government to accelerate the wider application of the country’s digital contact tracing system that could help reduce the period from detection of the virus to isolation from 7 to 5 days.

Citing epidemiological models, NEDA said that implementing the digital contact tracing system can reduce COVID-19 cases by 51 per cent. The system is currently just being implemented in Pasig, Mandaluyong, Valenzuela, and Antipolo cities.

The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has approved the expansion of this system to the rest of the country and ensuring interoperability across apps and LGUs.

NEDA also recommended the timely implementation of the recovery package, consisting of fiscal, monetary, and financial interventions amount to over 15.4 per cent of the country’s GDP since last year. This includes the 2021 budget, the 2020 budget extension, the “Bayanihan 2” extension, the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act, and the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) Act. Accelerating the pace of their implementation would bring forward the benefits that these measures intend.

NEDA has recently advised the government to accelerate the implementation of the vaccination programme following the IATF’s decision to expand the A4 vaccine priority group to include all workers who work outside their homes, including government employees. The added protection against COVID-19 will give workers more confidence to go out and earn a living while reducing virus transmission to their families.

Based on a report from the World Health Organisation, before WHO declared a pandemic in early March of 2020, there was immediately a need for information and data on the COVID-19 response. In those early weeks, the main question revolved around contact tracing: how many contacts were being traced, how many were being quarantined, and where and how to get this information.

Before the pandemic, WHO Philippines had already been working with software developers doing apps for monitoring and recording tuberculosis (TB) cases when the pandemic was declared. So, they began to explore doing a digital platform that would address information management needs for the COVID-19 response. When technical experts from WHO Philippines presented the app concept to the Department of Health (DOH), the latter was eager to support its development.

“COVID-KAYA” was then developed and approved for nationwide roll out after the testing. However, because the DOH-Epidemiology Bureau (EB) already had an information system (as well as StaySafe.PH and other local contact tracing apps) that was being used in their satellite offices all over the country, it soon became apparent that these systems must be integrated.

To address these, another IATF resolution in June 2020 delineated the functions of both StaySafe.PH app and COVID-KAYA, which are officially collection and storage of data, respectively. Essentially, Resolution No. 45 established COVID-KAYA as the central repository of all data related to the pandemic response. All data from the StaySafe app was required for migration to COVID-KAYA.

This migration took longer than anybody had anticipated. For weeks on, the system kept collecting new information every day even as migration was being done. Additionally, those who had become used to using the old system had to be given basic training on how to use COVID-KAYA. It also did not help that many local government units (LGUs) had their formatting system in place. Manual correction and cleaning had to be done during data migration.

WHO’s representative to the Philippines said that as the country expands and strengthens testing and contact tracing, isolation and treatment are more effective and can pave the way towards the better and faster rebuilding of the economy as well as a healthy future for all Filipinos.

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