The City of Makati will be the first local government unit in the country to conduct Pooled RT-PCR Testing for COVID-19, and will prioritize public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers and market vendors when it starts testing on Aug. 15.
Mayor Abigail Binay announced this on Thursday, a day after she signed an agreement with officials of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship, and the BDO Foundation to formally begin the pilot implementation of the project.
The city government is co-funding the project, which was developed under Project ARK, a private sector-led initiative to make mass testing available nationwide.
“We are initially targeting 10,000 individuals, mostly PUV drivers and market vendors who are among the sectors that are most exposed to the virus. Later on, the pooled testing method can be applied to other sectors,” said Binay.
Under the pooled testing method, swab samples of multiple individuals are tested at the same time using RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction). If the result is positive, all the individuals in the pool will be tested separately. If the test comes back negative, there is no need to test everyone in the batch.
“I am honored that Makati City is taking the lead in this groundbreaking initiative. COVID-19 is bigger than all of us. As mayor, I will gladly take on additional responsibility if it would lead to better testing, isolation, and treatment for patients infected with the coronavirus,” Mayor Binay said.
She noted that the results of the study are expected to have a big impact on mass testing protocols and could lead to more efficient handling of coronavirus cases all over the country. The study was pioneered by PCMC and is now in its second phase.
Under the agreement, the city government will select groups of people or communities to be swabbed. Health personnel will be trained on proper swabbing and sample pooling methods. The city will then apply the results of the research to its own health policies and programs for better COVID-19 response.
Binay emphasized that the result of the pilot test will be shared with other local government units to help them improve their own COVID-19 protocols.
At the end of the one-month test period, Makati is expected to come up with a pooled testing protocol, which will enable the city and other institutions to optimize the availability of test kits, reduce the workload on testing laboratory staff, identify and isolate large groups of negative cases.
That will make testing more cost-effective and provide LGUs and businesses better and clearer direction for decision-making.
“Makati has the means, resources, and more importantly the commitment to go beyond simply treating persons with coronavirus. We want to help improve processes and lighten the load of our overburdened healthcare workers. We may not find a cure or a vaccine in the very near future, but we can improve how communities handle testing and isolation. I believe this is a very important first step,” Binay emphasized.
She said the city's selection for the partnership is a vote of confidence on the treatment protocols and procedures established by the COVID-19 Task Force led by the Makati Health Department (MHD) since the beginning of the pandemic.
The mayor pointed out that the city has remained consistent in using RT-PCR testing, considered the “gold standard” by health experts. “We recognize that accuracy and reliability are more important than lower cost and convenience.”
Makati is one of the first LGUs in Metro Manila to implement mass testing. Its health department began testing front liners, City Hall employees, members of the police force for coronavirus on April 22. As of July 14, the city has tested more than 10,000 individuals and prevented rapid transmission of the virus.
The PCMC, for its part, will orient and train Makati’s health team and other partners as well as to conduct the actual testing and interpret the test results.
BDOF shared the P5-million cost of the project equally with Makati City.