By Corina Oliquino

MANILA – In a press statement released August 17, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) admits that “aggressive” contact-tracing is the key to the success of Metropolitan Cebu and Baguio City in containing COVID-19.

DILG Sec. Eduardo Año, who recently confirmed contracting COVID-19 for the second time, said contract-tracing will be a game-changer in the entire country if the Congress will allocate funds for the hiring and deployment of additional contact-tracers under Bayanihan 2.

Año said there is a current need to hire at least 50,000 more contact-tracers to meet the World Health Organization’s ratio of one contact-tracer for every 800 people.

Currently, 7,000 contact-tracing teams with a total of over 85,000 contact-tracers are deployed across the country.

“With a projected population of 108 million this year, we need 50,000 more contact tracers to attain the ideal number of 135,000 contact tracers to significantly ramp up our contact tracing efforts in all parts of the country but with emphasis on hot spots like Metro Manila and surrounding provinces,” Año said, noting the current number of contact-tracers failed to meet the recommendations of Contact Tracing Czar and Baguio City Mayor Benjie Magalong of a 1:37 patient to close contacts ratio to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“We need to significantly increase the number of contact tracers to meet the 1:37 ratio target recommended by Mayor Magalong which has been effective in Baguio and in Cebu City,” he added.

Magalong’s contact-tracing system for Baguio City has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “best practice” as it combined digital technology and cognitive interviews by tracers.

According to DILG, Magalong is now sharing the new system with other Local Government Units as part of his responsibilities to the National Task Force.

The DILG’s Local Government Academy will also handle the training of extra contact-tracers in a bid to utilize the “cognitive interviewing technique,” similar to the questioning technique used by the police force to retrieve information about a crime from witnesses and victims.

“Our LGA and PPSC has developed four modules in our training program and we will ensure that all those hired will be trained,” he said.

DILG Undersec. and Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya, on the other hand, said expanded contact-tracing efforts will allow local Government units (LGUs) to “open up their own contact tracing command center which will serve as the nerve center for data gathering.”

“With just one click of our contact tracers in their phones, data will be automatically sent to the database and analysis can be done. Here is where technology comes in,” Malaya said.

Free training program for contact-tracers

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) will open a free Contact-Tracing Training Program next month and is currently developing online materials for it.

TESDA is partnering with the Health Human Resources Development Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH-HHRDB) and the health industry’s experts to develop competency standards for the program.

“We also want to provide world-class and competent human resources for contact tracing and at the same time, ensure that the education and training providers shall deliver the programs in accordance with our competency standards as required by our health sector,” TESDA Sec. Isidro Lapeña said, noting the program aims to “industry skills requirements for contact tracing and produce individuals with 21st Century Skills and compliant to the existing industry standards.

Meanwhile, a memorandum issued last month tasked the National Institute for Technical Education and Skills Development (NITESD) and all of the agency’s regional and provincial offices “to develop a Competency-Based Curriculum to standardize the program and ensure that it is in accordance with the competency standards.”

Lapeña is also urging all TVET institutions to register their own contact tracing courses which will be processed by TESDA Regional and Provincial Offices.

Based on the competency standards, interested applicants set to be trained for free must have completed at least 10 years of basic education or holder of Alternative Learning System certificate of completion with Grade 10 equivalent and has basic communication skills, while a trainer must hold a Trainer’s Methodology Certificate or must be a practicing trainer for two years within the last five years.

TESDA noted that the program will run for 15 days and will be implemented in a “blended learning modality which will be composed of online and offline learning with a face-to-face component as provided by the curriculum.”