OCTA Research: Red Cross testing halt 'cripples' isolation, contact tracing programs
This July 8, 2020 file photo shows the Philippine Red Cross molecular laboratory in Batangas City. The laboratory, inaugurated that day, also expanded testing capacity in nearby cities and municipalities in Batangas.
Philippine Red Cross, release
OCTA Research: Red Cross testing halt 'cripples' isolation, contact tracing programs
Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - October 27, 2020 - 10:54am

MANILA, Philippines — Researchers studying the coronavirus outbreak in the country called on the government to fix the debt row between the Philippine Red Cross and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to effectively manage the health crisis in the country.

In its latest report, the OCTA Research Group stressed the need for Red Cross to resume its testing for the government as the humanitarian organization accounts for about 30% of the country’s total coronavirus testing capacity and contributes 38% to Metro Manila’s screening capacity.

The OCTA Research Group pointed out that the decrease in the number of daily new cases may not provide an “accurate picture” of the situation in the country as the figures do not include significant data from the Red Cross.

The country, for example, reported only 1,607 additional cases Monday. But the figures showed that samples processed by testing laboratories dipped to just 15,710, way below the target of 30,000 tests a day.

The halt in the operations of Red Cross resulted in the drop of reported cases in Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna and Batangas by 40 to 50%, the researchers said. This stemmed from the state insurer’s failure to settle its more than P1 billion debt to the organization.

Among the areas affected by the temporary halt in Red Cross testing include Quezon City, Manila, Pasig, Makati, Taguig, Pasay, Parañaque, Mandaluyong, Muntinlupa, San Juan, Pateros, Antipolo, Cainta, Taytay, Imus, Dasmariñas, General Trias, Bacoor, Batangas City and Calamba.

The analysts projected that the average daily new cases in the capital region would increase by 200 to 300 if tests of Red Cross are included.

‘Resolve issue’

The OCTA Research Group asked the government to resolve the debt issue between Red Cross and PhilHealth and ensure the organization resumes testing as soon as possible.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque previously asked the researchers from the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas to keep their policy suggestions private after they recommended stricter quarantine status in areas which they described as emerging hotspots.

“Without the testing facilities provided by the PRC, our isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing programs are crippled because  the LGUs do not know whether or not a person is infected with COVID-19 within the 24-48 hour time period required,” the researchers said.

“Without the RT-PCR testing facilities provided by the PRC, our public health authorities and pandemic management teams are made blind because of less accurate information. Accurate testing information and increased testing capacity are crucial to managing the pandemic,” they added.

They also emphasized that resolving the issue will provide medical frontliners and returning overseas Filipinos accessible and reliable coronavirus testing.

“An example of the crippling effect of the PRC testing break is that thousands of our OFWs are now stranded and languishing in quarantine facilities, at great cost to the government, still awaiting their tests and test results that have all been delayed because of the impasse,” they said.

Malacañang said the Department of Health is in talks with private testing centers to fill the testing gap left by Red Cross.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs Red Cross, said PhilHealth failed to settle its debt despite its commitment to pay on October 26.

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