No capability to conduct mass testing, DOH says

THE Department of Health (DOH) is not too keen on doing mass testing for coronavirus disease (Covid-19) despite its continued spread in the country.

In a radio interview, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they do not believe that testing each and every Filipino would be an efficient move to stem the spread of Covid-19, but ensured that the government is ready to undertake such measure.

“For now, we don’t see the need to do mass testing. It is in our plans, and if we have enough resources and the government can do it, and it is already imperative for the government to do it, we will do it,” Vergeire said.

“Because the transmission is there, it is sustained in the community, even if I test you now, after two weeks, you might get another exposure. Does that mean we must test you again?” she said.

The health official, however, said that they are not totally ruling it out saying they also understand that public clamor for mass testing have been growing.

“We know that there are calls for it because everybody is already scared,” said Vergeire.

“That is why the government is really studying this proposal. But we should also keep in mind that we are not a rich country and that testing kits are not really constantly available,” said Vergeire.

For the moment, she said they will just stick to the existing protocol of testing only those with severe symptoms, elderly, and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

According to Commission on Human Rights (CHR) spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia, the DOH must conduct a mass testing to complement the quarantine measures in accordance with the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“If the supply is limited, the guidelines and protocols must consider those that are most vulnerable to the Covid-19 – these are the elderly people as well as those with underlying medical conditions,” said De Guia.

“Missteps in prioritization may have dire consequences considering reports that there are already persons under investigation (PUIs) that are dying without getting the results of their tests. Aside from the medical solution, the poor elderly and those workers involved in the informal economy should also be provided cash assistance or subsidy for the duration of the quarantine,” she added.

Meanwhile, the Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (Spark) also called for a mass testing.

In a statement, the group sought clarification on DOH’s protocols for testing.

“Politicians are being given 'preferential treatment'. First, of course, was Rodrigo Duterte himself and Bong Go. Though the result was negative, DOH is still mulling a retest of Duterte, citing his old age and his possible exposure as alibis,” the group said.

“The same special attention was given to his family. Almost everyone in the Duterte brood, from his common-law wife, down to his children, were given the privilege of being tested,” they added.

Testing kits

And with more Filipinos looking to get tested for Covid-19, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Saturday approved four more imported testing kits.

The four new testing kits came from South Korea (1), Singapore (1), and Germany (2).

The one from South Korea is Standard M nCoV Real-time Detection Kit manufactured by SD Biosensor, Inc.; while the one from Singapore is A*Star Fortitude Kit 2.0 (Covid-19 Real-time RT-PCR Test) manufactured by Accelerate Technologies Pte Ltd.

The two from Germany are TIB Molbiol Lightmix Modular Wuhan CoV RdRP GENE and TIB Molbiol Lightmix Modular SARS and Wuhan CoV E-Gene, both of which are manufactured by TIB Molbiol Syntheselabor GmbH.

Last week, the FDA announced the approval of four Covid-19 testing kits, with two coming from China and another two from South Korea.

The two test kits from China are “Nucleic acid detection kit for 2019 ncov” manufactured by Shanghai Connex Biotech Co.; and “Novel coronavirus 2019 ncov nucleic acid detection kit (fluorescence PCR method)” manufactured by Beijing Applied Biological Technologies Co.

The two test kits from South Korea are “AllplexTM 2019-nCoV Assay” manufactured by Seegene Inc.; and “SOLGENT DiaplexQ Novel Coronavirus (2019 nCoV) Detection Kit” manufactured by Solgent Co.

“(These) testing kits are for commercial use that hospitals with laboratory capability can already procure and use,” said the FDA.

Sub-national labs

As for hospitals with laboratory capacity, the DOH said it is also in the process of tapping seven more medical facilities, including private hospitals.

It noted how two additional laboratories are being set-up at the Western Visayas Medical Center and the Bicol Public Health Laboratory.

The two shall undergo proficiency testing for one week before it can begin testing Covid-19 samples, said the DOH.

The other five are private tertiary hospitals, namely St. Luke Medical Center - Global City, Makati Medical Center, The Medical City, St. Lukes Medical Center - Quezon City, and Chinese General Hospital.

The DOH said they are partnering with the World Health Organization in assessing the molecular biology laboratories of the private tertiary hospitals.

Earlier, the identified sub-national laboratories that were tapped to help process 50-300 Covid-19 tests daily, namely San Lazaro Hospital, Baguio General Hospital & Medical Center, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, and Southern Philippines Medical Center.

They operate as auxiliary to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health in testing samples for Covid-19.

“More laboratories will be assessed across all regions after this first round is completed,” said the DOH. (HDT, JTM/SunStar Philippines)