A memorandum of agreement (MOA) was recently by Go Negosyo, Project ARK PCR Initiative, and the Baguio City government for pooled testing of market vendors, public transport drivers, and other vulnerable sectors in the city, Iloilo 1st District Rep. and ARK-PCR Private Sector Chief Implementer Janette Garin disclosed.
Project ARK, the private sector-led initiative that aims to make massive testing possible through the use of Antibody Rapid test Kits (ARK), is headed by Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion.
Garin said she signed the agreement with Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who serves as the country’s contact-tracing czar, and Josephine Romero of the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship or GoNegosyo.
She said the signing of the MOA is aimed at helping Baguio City, the people’s favorite tourist destination in the North to become COVID-free through affordable pooled reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing.
“These efforts will help the city curb the COVID-19 transmission rate by providing accessible testing to the most vulnerable by identifying the positives, whether symptomatic or not, then isolating and treating them,” said Garin, a former secretary of the Department of Health.
According to her, public market vendors, drivers, teachers, and other vulnerable sectors in Baguio City will be prioritized in the pooled RT-PCR testing.
The signing of MOA was held at the City Mayor’s Office in Baguio City last December1.
On the same day, the City of Baguio and the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center signed a MOA for the conduct of pooled RT-PCR testing.
In August, Garin said the private sector-led Project ARK (Antibody Rapid Test Kit) expected to expand its pilot implementation of the pooled RT-PCR testing, involving 10,000 people. She even assured the public that it is in “constant communication” with the Department of Health (DOH) as far as possible cascading of pooled testing techniques to public hospitals and accredited laboratories.
In Luzon, Garin said the proposed pilot testing implementation sites are Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital, Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Lung Center of the Philippines.
While the University of Cebu Medical Center (UNMed), Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC), Wester Visayas Medical Center (WVMC), and Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center (EVRMC) have been identified as pilot sites in the Visayas.
Garin has been pushing for the use of pooled RT-PCR testing because “it will help cover more people at a reduced cost.” She is the principal author of House Bill (HB) No. 6865, the proposed “Crushing COVID-19 Act”, which was already passed by the House of Representatives on third and final reading.
The bill mandates the conduct of pooled RT- PCR COVID-19 testing for vulnerable groups, including senior citizens, and those immunocompromised who are returning to work.
HB 6865 aims to reduce COVID-19 mortality through early detection and management, and to slow down the doubling time for the COVID-19 infections in the country. It was approved by the House plenary last Monday.
The measure mandates the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to shoulder the full cost of testing, including the cost of services of the pathologist, laboratory specialist and other laboratory staff.
Garin said pooled PCR testing should include workers with co-morbidities, pregnant women, health care workers, food handlers, public, market vendors, sales people in groceries and supermarkets, house helpers, salon workers, media people and factory and construction workers.
“Pooled testing will help the government save its resources and allowing it to reallocate funds to other public health important measures while providing the much-needed mass testing in the country,” she said.
HB 6865 seeks to establish Baseline PCR Testing as the protocol for COVID-19 testing.
It mandates the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to ensure that COVID testing centers are available, affordable, and accessible.