Ex-DOH chief says saliva-based COVID testing a ‘game-changer’

Published January 19, 2021, 11:19 AM

by Noreen Jazul

Former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said saliva-based testing will be a “game-changer” in the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Claudio Reyes / AFP via Getty Images / MANILA BULLETIN)

In an interview with ANC on Tuesday, Ubial, now the head of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Molecular Lab, said saliva tests are “accurate, fast, and cheap” which will allow the government to detect “more people” who are positive for COVID-19.

Ubial said the result of the agency’s pilot run of saliva testing showed that there is a “98% concordance between the results of the saliva test and the swab test.”

The PRC Molecular Lab head said a total of 1080 samples from the pilot testing were submitted to the Department of Health (DOH).

“It’s actually, [it] will be a game-changer and we hope the DOH and the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) will give the certification of approval very soon,” she said.

The health expert also believes that more people will volunteer to be tested once saliva-based testing is adopted in the country.

“It’s less invasive. It’s not uncomfortable unlike the swab. People are scared of getting a swab test,” she said.

Results of saliva tests also come out faster, within three to four hours, according to Ubial.

“It’s a better option for all of us,” she added.

As for the price of the saliva test, Ubial said it will cost half the price of the swab test.

“Around P2,000, but we can bring that down if we get the numbers up because of the economies of scale,” she said.

Ubial said the saliva test is also less risky for specimen collectors.

“The specimen collector in [the] saliva [test] can be like any trained person, not necessarily a health professional like with what we’re doing with the swab,” she said.

“In the saliva [testing] it can be anyone trained. They don’t have to wear complete cover or PPE because there is no aerosolization or risk of droplet infection from cough or sneeze because the person will just drool instead of poking their nostril where you trigger a sneeze then that is more risky. The swab is more risky for health professionals,” she added.

If saliva-based testing is adopted, Ubial said the country can reach its maximum testing capacity of 47,000 to 48,000 a day. Currently, Ubial said the country conducts 30,000 to 32,000 tests daily.