Duterte orders immediate purchase of rapid COVID-19 test kits

Duterte orders immediate purchase of rapid COVID-19 test kits
President Rodrigo Duterte holds a meeting with some members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on April 13, 2020.
Presidential Photo / Karl Norman Alonzo

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the “immediate” purchase of rapid test kits for the new coronavirus to boost the country’s testing capability despite the lack of guidelines from health authorities.

In a late night speech Monday, Duterte said he “will take the risk” and order the procurement of the rapid test kits despite the absence of clearance from the country’s Food and Drug Administration and approval from the Health and Technology and Assessment Council.

“I’m clearing the way. I will ask Secretary [Francisco] Duque to talk to the people in charge, si Secretary [Carlito] Galvez. And they can proceed to buy it immediately as fast as you can really to the procurement at this time,” he said.

But the DOH cannot directly procure the rapid test kits due to the absence of approval from the Health Technology Assessment Council, a group of health experts tasked to facilitate provision of financing and recommendations on health technologies to be financed.

Section 34 of the Universal Health Care Act states that “investments on any health technology or development of any benefit package by the DOH and PhilHealth shall be used on the positive recommendations of the HTA.”

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the government could bypass the restrictions by ordering the Office of Civil Defense to make the purchase.

“So hindi lang pwede ang DOH and PhilHealth but because we are in the state of calamity, OCD can do the purchase,” the spokesperson of the government’s coronavirus task force.

Need to buy both rapid test kits and PCR-based kits

National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government will need to purchase 900,000 polymerase chain reaction-based kits to confirm the validity of results obtained from the use of rapid test kits.

PCR-based kits are expected to cost around P3.2 billion. Galvez said the government is eyeing to buy two million rapid test kits but the approximate cost of the said kits is not yet available.

The DOH earlier said it does not recommend the use of rapid test kits because such kits can produce false positive and false negative.

FDA Director General Eric Domingo earlier said that while rapid test kits yield faster results that PCR-based kits, a trained health professional should evaluate and interpret the results.

"We have to be very cautious is using these rapid test kits because they measure antibodies and not the viral load itself. The body takes time to develop antibodies and this might give a negative result for patients who have been infected but bodies have not yet developed antibodies," Domingo said in a statement released March 30.

The Philippine College of Physicians and the Philippine Society of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, in a joint position paper, said using rapid antibody tests may pose harm to healthcare workers and the public through false reassurance and inadvertent exposure.

According to the World Health Organization, which says the tests have limited utility for clinical diagnosis, "these test kits detects the presence of antibodies in the blood of people believed to have been infected with COVID-19."

Last month, the country’s Food and Drug Administration approved the use of five rapid tests for COVID-19 but stressed that a confirmatory PCR-based test is still required.

The Philippines has so far reported 4,932 COVID-19 infections, with 315 deaths and 242 recoveries.

There are now 15 testing facilities across the archipelago. Over 35,804 individuals have been tested. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 5, 2021 - 11:25am

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the bill that grants him special powers to address the novel coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines. Bookmark this page for updates. 

September 5, 2021 - 11:25am

Strategies proposed by the inter-agency taskforce against the COVID-19 pandemic need the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque says.

He made the statement after news of a shift to "granular" lockdowns that will be first implemented in the National Capital Region starting September 8.

June 30, 2021 - 3:48pm

The government should extend 'Bayanihan 2', the legislation intended to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Akbayan says as it joins the call of labor groups SENTRO and NAGKAISA for an extension.

"Millions of Filipinos are still without work thanks to the pandemic. Add the fact that the country is under recession for the first time since the Marcos years, and it becomes imperative that the State step in and continue to provide aid," the party-list says.

"We echo the view that terminating Bayanihan 2 now will push more Filipino families towards hunger and desperation. The government must realize that without a sustained comprehensive economic aid plan, people will be forced to leave their houses to get food, medicine and supplies, which increases the risk of getting COVID. And with hotspots multiplying outside the NCR, extending Bayanihan 2 is not only logical, but necessary," it also says.

June 23, 2021 - 9:45am

The government should increase efforts to inform people about the benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 instead of threatening to jail those who refuse or telling them to leave the country, Akbayan says.

"Mr. Rodrigo Duterte cannot jail his way out of this pandemic. Neither can he expel COVID-19 by throwing out of the country Filipinos who are hesitant of the vaccines. It is both sad and ironic that in the middle of a catastrophe, the President is so quick to threaten to expel his own people, yet chooses to remain silent on Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea," Dr. RJ Naguit, Akbayan spokesperson, says in a release.

"The global health crisis is not simply a law and order problem. The virus cannot be contained by penal servitude. This is exactly the simplistic and violent approach that continues to divide this country, the idea that there are only two kinds of people, those who obey, and those who don't. There is far more to this crisis than that," he says.

The government has often used the "pasaway" narrative, saying people are stubborn and do not follow guidelines, to explain surges in COVID-19 cases and other issues related to the pandemic. This, despite top government officials being among those often seen flouting the same safety guidelines.

June 21, 2021 - 12:31pm

Face shields are no longer required when leaving home, the Palace says.

People will still need to wear face shields in public transportation, markets and indoor establishments.

This change in policy comes after President Rodrigo Duterte told senators that the face shields should only be worn in hospital settings.

Prior to the president's remarks, agencies, inlcuding the Palace had insisted on the use of face shields, claiming wearing them over face masks is almost as good as being vaccinated against COVID-19.

May 27, 2021 - 8:40pm

A total of 1,415 golf workers in Metro Manila have received cash aid from the DOT and DOLE as part of the Bayanihan 2 act.

The golf caddies, golf workers and employees in five major golf clubs in the capital region received almost P7.075 million.

“For the beneficiaries of the cash assistance program with us today, I hope that this amount can help you and your families in this difficult time," Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat says.

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