NEDA bats for 'widespread' coronavirus testing

Prinz Magtulis - Philstar.com
NEDA bats for 'widespread' coronavirus testing

MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos calling for a mass testing against the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) has secured an ally on the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), which believes “widespread testing” is crucial to ending the outbreak.

“The key to a successful medical response is widespread testing,” NEDA said on its initial report assessing the economic impact of COVID-19.

“Moreover, early diagnosis will lead to early initiation or quarantine procedures and, therefore, limit or prevent the spread of the virus,” he added. 

NEDA’s position is in direct contrast with the Department of Health’s position that mass testing, where even asymptomatic individuals likely infected are also tested, is unnecessary to put the virus spread under control.

It became clear later on that the agency was only concerned about its limited resources. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said over the weekend that mass testing would depend on the number of test kits, which until recently had been dismal in the Philippines amid stretched global supply.

In the report, NEDA also recognized the "constrained" supply of test kits given huge global demand, but added adequate funding must still be set aside to ensure that the country is ready to buy supplies whenever there is opportunity to buy more kits.

Highlighting the benefits of early and mass testing, NEDA cited the Philippines’ response to the dengue epidemic last year which succeeded “because of early diagnosis.”

The limited testing capacity has forced DOH to also cap the number of people allowed to get diagnosed for COVID-19. From allowing all persons under investigation or those potentially exposed to secure the test, diagnosis is now limited to the elderly likely exposed to the virus as well as those with underlying diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

Despite the tightened rules however, some public officials including lawmakers gained personal access to testing despite having no symptoms of the disease, triggering public backlash.  

Over the weekend, around 100,000 test kits arrived from China, South Korea and Brunei to help augment the country’s limited supply. 

The kits, in turn, are expected to allow the government to finally open five more testing centers nationwide that would complement the lone testing facility at Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa this week.

As of Tuesday, 4 p.m., there were already 552 confirmed COVID-19 infections nationwide, 35 of whom died while 20 others recovered from the disease.

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