"It appears it was all for show to take the pressure off Duque."
It seems the Food and Drug Administration was only forced to issue its stamp of approval for various brands of COVID-19 rapid test (on-site) kits due to intense public pressure for mass testing. The Department of Health, of which it is under, apparently has no real intention of implementing mass testing come April 14.
Time and again, Health Secretary Francisco Duque has emphasized that he only approves of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method which is the gold standard in testing patients for COVID-19, playing blind to the fact that countries such as South Korea, China, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, United Kingdom, United States, etc. have been employing rapid test kits side-by-side with the PCR kits to combat the dreaded virus.
The clamor for using rapid test kits gained traction as the PCR method being used by the DOH takes several days—even weeks—to get the result, so much so that many infected individuals, including frontliners, have died without even knowing if they’ve tested positive or negative for COVID-19.
Using rapid test kits, South Korea even set up drive-through COVID-19 test sites that boasted of testing at least 10,000 individuals per day. US is following the example by setting up its own version, the walk-through test sites being situated in supermarket parking lots.
Duque’s behavior toward mass testing proves strange and symptomatic of regulatory paralysis. While he boasted in the media that he had already directed FDA Director-General Eric Domingo to validate the integrity of the rapid test kits submitted to the agency for exemption, a check with FDA revealed that it had only one staff-member assigned to take care of the kits so much so that it required the assistance of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine to do the job.
Since FDA only had one staff for this critical job, the applicants for exemption had to retrieve the test kits from FDA and submit them to RITM themselves although the latter is just a stone’s throw away from FDA, since no one in the agency could do it.
RITM personnel, however, didn’t receive any word from either FDA or DOH on what to do with the rapid test kits, so the crucial mass testing kits had to sleep for over a week at RITM without being touched.
Apparently humiliated by this paralysis in checking the kits that was already talk-of-the-town in the mainstream and social media, FDA suddenly released on March 30, 2020 a list of approved brands of rapid test kits.
On the following day, however, DOH released Department Circular No. 2020-0160 with the following subject: Guidance on the Use of COVID-19 Rapid Antibody Test Kits. The department circular practically bars the national government and local government units to purchase rapid test kits.
The rapid test kits are intended for mass testing, that’s the whole idea, because a rapid test kit can come up with the result in 15 minutes aside from being much cheaper than the PCR method, ideal for contact-tracing and at the same time, democratizing COVID-19 testing to erase the perception that only VIPs get COVID-19 tests.
If the idea of approving the various brands of rapid test kits is to be used as complementary kits to PCR for mass testing, why is DOH banning the government from purchasing it for mass use? It’s precisely defeating the purpose of rapid testing!
This, in essence, contradicts COVID-19 response head Carlito Galvez’s pronouncement mass testing beginning April 14.
It is now clear as day that the approval of rapid test kits was all for show just to ease the public pressure on Duque. In short, a lie. Other than a stress reliever, what could be Duque’s other reason that other countries who have successfully flattened the curve with the help of rapid testing failed to see?
In case the people have forgotten, Senator Panfilo Lacson exposed last year that Duque’s family-owned business consistently bagged DOH medicine supply contracts and even leased out last year a building in Dagupan City to PhilHealth.
Of course, Duque denied any involvement in the supply and lease contracts, perhaps in the same manner he denied that he had called Makati Medical Center after Senator Koko Pimentel asked him to intervene so the senator’s pregnant wife would be admitted in the hospital.
Every second of delay in using the rapid test kits for mass testing costs the government billions of pesos in public funds, especially that PhilHealth covers for all the hospital, medicine and treatment costs of COVID-19 patients. With the DOH red tape, the number of those infected is expected to shoot up as the invisible enemy remains undetected.
For some mysterious reason, Duque insists on playing Blackjack with death on a losing hand, where the currency on the table is the blood of millions of Filipinos.
I hope the President makes mention of his name when he addresses the nation again today. As I’ve said before, it won’t hurt to drop a few deadweights along the way. And the President just did that last Friday.