Obsolete before ROI

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - January 11, 2021 - 12:00am

Science and technology might drive the current gold standard for testing COVID-19 obsolete before its time. That is if vested interests and invested authorities don’t have their way and block or deny entry for newer testing methods and technology into the country. In case you haven’t heard, a couple of companies in Israel and the United States have developed a faster, less invasive and cheaper way of testing for the COVID-19 virus by testing saliva specimens from patients. The three advantages I mentioned makes the saliva test kit a home run and practical option but there is a fourth and all important requirement: the saliva test must be as accurate or more accurate than the RT-PCR test that almost all hospitals and LGUs now use and require.

So far all the previous contenders that competed against the RT-PCR test, namely the Rapid Test and the Anti-Gen test, have fallen short in terms of percentage of accuracy and false-positives or vice versa. An even more practical concern is that if the saliva test actually passes and levels up to the accuracy and reliability of the RT-PCR test, can the national and local governments afford to shut down all the multimillion-peso laboratories if the public decides to turn to a test that is estimated to be as low as one-fifth the price of RT-PCR? Chances are the government can’t and won’t allow it to happen because getting back their Return On Investment or ROI won’t happen for several years. It is bad enough that the need for such tests might or will become obsolete in two years, which is a safe estimate for when the different COVID-19 vaccines really and truly reach our shores and get into our bodies. But if the saliva test passes the FDA requirements, I’m sure a number of local executives and hospital board members will be scratching their heads on how to re-engineer and repurpose those RT-PCR laboratories.

Yes, it might seem such a waste to end up having to close those laboratories or shelving the RT-PCR equipment sooner or later, but then again they would have served their purpose if the new, cheaper and safer tests come in. At the end of the day, the need and the objective was to test people in order to safeguard public health and protect all Filipinos regardless of the cost. The taxpayers paid the price and I can confidently say we got our money’s worth. Now, if we could only get our hands on real COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines, that would really be protecting Filipinos!

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After my sad and unfortunate experience with ASF and having to depopulate our backyard piggery, I have been receiving visits from representatives and veterinarians from the Department of Agriculture (Region IV) as well as the City Veterinarian’s Office of Lipa City, Batangas. The city vet came by to complete the documentation and application for indemnification for the pigs we had to depopulate in order to contain the ASF while the Agriculture officials, most of whom were Lipa residents, visited last Saturday to offer alternative livestock for livelihood such as a cow, or native chickens, or goats and when the time is right, “sentinel pigs” or sacrificial test pigs to determine if the ASF virus has disappeared or remains malingering in the farm. I appreciated the visit because it gave me an open window to learn first hand what the Department of Agriculture does for backyard raisers who lose their main source of income. Although I’ve heard and been told about these assistance, being offered the same makes it all very real.

I of course declined the offer because the pain is still very fresh and since there are many far more deserving and needy individuals who can really benefit from such an assistance program. Those sitting comfortably in the shade might be tempted to mock and ridicule the attempt of government to help, but mind you, if you are a poor individual who had to save or borrow money to put up a small piggery of three to four sows and ASF wipes you out totally, getting back on your feet is not easy. I have read the email of a number of fellow raisers who had far more pigs than I had, and even took out loans and now they are flat broke and still servicing their loans. Perhaps what the Department of Agriculture should focus on is a very well thought out national education campaign about ASF so people will know the facts from the Fake News, then the top officials at the Central Office of the DA should work out how they could set up a program like an insurance policy for all remaining commercial hog farms so that they too can get indemnification if their farms get hit by ASF.

While the DA helps out small backyard farmers, it is unfair to simply leave commercial farms on their own. It is bad enough to lose hundreds to thousands of pigs in one week, be left with hundreds of bags of feeds you can’t use, be left with hundreds of square meters of buildings or pens and be flat broke! Commercial farms supply the public demand for pork, employ thousands of farm workers, provide business for feed manufacturers, animal drug companies, electric and water companies as well as business tax for LGUs. Sadly, when many of them got shut down and lost their business, the only thing they got was instructions on how to bury their depopulated livestock. The DA and Congress need to recognize the contributions of both small and commercial establishments and treat them equally. For one thing the Philippine Crop Insurance needs looking into, because most people have no idea what they are about and what assistance or insurance they can give to livestock raisers and not just rice farmers.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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