Face masks, alcohol, and even bottled water were just some of the first store items to go while lockdown fears mount in the Philippines during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The STAR/Edd Gumban
Gov't bidding dropped for testing kits, tissue paper, quarantine sites
Prinz Magtulis (Philstar.com) - March 14, 2020 - 6:24pm

MANILA, Philippines — Stringent procurement rules have finally been eased for medicines, toiletries and testing kits, as well as for leasing quarantine facilities as the Philippines seeks to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19).

Under Resolution 03-2020, the interagency Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) has given the go-ahead for the health department to undergo a negotiated procurement of "items needed to address the current state of public health emergency" as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

A negotiated procurement allows a state agency to simply tap a "legally, technically and financially capable supplier" to produce the needed items or deliver the service, without the need for a competitive bidding that can take months to finish. 

The relaxation of rules is a welcome development for the Department of Health (DOH), which has struggled to facilitate COVID-19 testing across a wider population due to lack of sufficient testing kits.While other countries report new infections on a daily basis, the Philippines underwent a month-long lull in new cases until early March, triggering concerns from senators who warned the country is failing to capture the real number of infections.

DOH, for its part, blamed the lack of testing kits for the supposed underreporting, a problem evident on its lone testing facility which the agency said is now in the process of being augmented. 

Under the GPPB resolution, testing kits may now be procured without bidding. Procurement rules were also eased for sodium hydrochloride for cleaning, other cleaning agents, personal protective equipment, povidone iodine, gloves and face masks.

"Common" medicines may now also be ordered more swiftly. This include paracetamol tablets and suspension, mefenamic acid, vitamins, hyoscine, oral rehydration solution and cetirizine anti-histamine table and suspension.

As their stock in the commercial market gets depleted, bidding were also shelved for government supply of alcohol, tissue paper, sanitizers, detergent and hand soap. Thermometers were also included in the list.

Underspending

Apart from medical products, procurement regulators also allowed the government to enter into direct negotiations for leasing of various "real property or venues" to be used as "quarantine centers" and "evacuation sites."

During an emergency declaration, temporary venues for "medical relief and aid locations" as well as "warehousing facilities or similar temporary disaster and emergency response facility" may also be secured without bidding.

During normal times in recent years, DOH had bad record on disbursing its budget, a direct effect of the agency's carefulness to avoid a repeat of the questioned purchases of Dengvaxia dengue vaccine in 2015, which blew off as a national controversy in 2017.

In 2018, the latest year on which data is available, the department spent only P1.6 billion of its P14-billion outlay for medicines. In the same year, the agency spent only 33% or P9.88 billion of its P30.27-billion budget for the upgrade of public hospitals and health facilities.

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