COVID-19 testing kit production delay questioned

Published July 18, 2020, 1:30 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Opposition senators on Saturday, July 18, questioned the delay in the mass production and use of Filipino-made testing kits for the government’s COVID-19 testing efforts.

In a joint statement, Senators Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan said the country could have saved funds had it used the test kits developed by a team of scientists at the University of the Philippines’ National Institute for Health (UP-NIH) instead of importing.

“The country is ramping up COVID-19 testing, but locally manufactured, world-class P1,320 PCR test kits are gathering dust in laboratories due to the inaction of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III,” the minority bloc senators said.

“What seems to be holding Secretary Duque and the DOH (Department of Health) back from giving the go-signal for the use and mass production of this Filipino-made, quality yet less expensive test kit? May kumikita ba sa mas mahal na imported test kit (Is someone benefitting from the imported test kits)?” they asked.

The lawmakers said that unlike the locally-manufactured COVID-19 test kit, imported brands that cost between P4,000 to P8,000 “enter the country without difficulty.”

“The savings that could be generated from this kit are crucial in augmenting our COVID-19 response especially at a time when resources are scarce,” they pointed out.

“Filipino scientists and doctors (had) started developing the test kits as early as December last year when reports about the coronavirus surfaced…Is there someone being favored here at the expense of Filipinos who every day face the dangers of getting infected, or who could already be carriers of the virus but are not yet being tested?” 

The DOH’s decision not to use the local test kits and import thousands from abroad had prompted the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate the agency and its officials. In an interview with CNN Philippines last June, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said that they found irregularities in the procurement of the foreign-made test kits.

Last April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the commercial use of the UP-developed Genamplify RT-PCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction) detection kit, which was funded by the Department of Science and Technology and manufactured by Manila HealthTek, Inc.

In May, however, the test kits were recalled after a “very minor defect” was discovered.

Last July 10, the DOH said the deficiency has been addressed and that locally-made kits will soon be made available for use in selected laboratories in the country.

“With the number of COVID-19 cases continuously rising, the DOH cannot afford more missteps in handling the situation because lives are at stake,” said Drilon, Hontiveros and Pangilinan.