Needle in a haystack? When patients go missing

The numbers speak for themselves.

A population of more than 100 million people using over 170 dialects and languages across a 300,000 square-kilometre archipelago consisting of seven-and-a-half thousand islands (two thousand of which are inhabited).

Finding someone in the Philippines can, understandably, be a little tricky.

But that’s the task that Tangiers International often has to accomplish when instructed to facilitate the assessment or treatment of overseas workers who have returned home after being injured.

Tangiers’ case manager in the region – Philippines-native Virgil Oria – found himself in this unenviable position earlier this year when he was asked to track down a claimant who had sustained an injury while employed as a civilian military contractor.

Virgil explained that the worker had returned to the Philippines after receiving preliminary treatment for his injury while still abroad. It was now time to continue treatment – but that, of course, required a patient.

Tangiers soon discovered that the telephone number provided for the patient was no longer in use. A second number was provided – but this as well was out of date.

Knowing that the patient had been expected to call into a Philippine hospital upon his return to the country, Virgil continued the search there, speaking to medical staff in an effort to make contact. Again, his efforts went unrewarded.

The search went online. Virgil began scouring social media sites for the patient and – when this was unsuccessful – for family members who might be able to put him in touch.

Finally, a lead. Through Facebook, Virgil discovered a relative of the patient living in the capital Manila who knew his whereabouts. Since returning to the country, he had been residing in a village on a small island located in the Sibuyan Sea – cut off from telephone or internet communication except when he made the journey into the island’s only town.

Virgil said: “It’s a very remote place with a population of only a few thousand. There’s only really a phone signal in the main town, so getting in touch with people can be really difficult.”

It is cases like these which highlight the difficulties Tangiers International has to overcome in order to locate claimants in some of the world’s most remote or isolated regions.

People are often not tied to a single telephone number for extended periods of time, they may only have intermittent access to the internet, or they may be relatively transient for the purposes of finding work.

Whether spending long hours hunched over a telephone and a list of numbers or travelling in person to remote towns and villages, Tangiers’ managers and field agents understand the benefits that local expertise, language skills and an acute knowledge of local geography bring to the job.

For Virgil, based in Cebu City – slap bang in the centre of the Philippines, the process of locating claimants is rarely simple.

“It often involves travel by air, by boat, renting cars to travel overland or taking motorcycle taxis far off the beaten path,” he explained. “Luckily, I live in Cebu City meaning I’m well placed to go anywhere across the country.”