3 cities in Cebu province boost rapid mass testing for coronavirus
CEBU CITY — The three major cities of Cebu are using public funds in the purchase of rapid test kits for their strategic mass testing to determine the next move in the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
But the use of government resources runs contrary to a circular of the Department of Health (DOH), which stated that rapid antibody-based test kits cannot be used for mass testing.
“Since the Health Technology Assessment Council does not recommend the use of such technology (rapid antibody-based test), particularly for mass testing, no public funds shall be used to pay for any COVID-19 rapid antibody-based test kit,” read the fifth item in DOH Circular 160 issued last March 31.
The directive was signed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Failure to comply with the guidelines, he said, “shall be dealt with accordingly” in contravention of Republic Act (RA) 2382 or Medical Act of 1959, RA 9711 or Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009, and other pertinent laws, rules, and regulations.
In a virtual press conference of the Project Balik Buhay organized by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV) last Saturday, May 16, a local health official said some funds from the government were used for the rapid test kits.
Dr. Mary Jane Loreche, chief pathologist of the DOH in Central Visayas (DOH-7), said funds used in the mass rapid testing in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu came from the local government units, the OPAV, and some private donors.
“As to who is shouldering the cost? Actually this is shouldered by the LGUs and also with the participation of the OPAV. There are also business sectors that are also helping out on this,” Loreche said.
She, however, could not determine as to how much was spent by the government on these rapid testing kits.
“I am not the right person to be answering this question, I am sorry about that,” said Loreche.
In a televised press briefing last May 14, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque clarified that local government units (LGUs) are now allowed to purchase rapid test kits approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the Philippines looks to impose a more aggressive COVID-19 testing program.
“Alinsunod po ito sa sinabi ng Presidente, siya po ang mananagot sa paggamit ng rapid test kits. (This is in accordance to what the President said. He will answer for the use of the rapid test kits),” Roque said.
The INQUIRER tried to get the comments of the mayors of the tri-cities as well as Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Lloyd Dino but there were no response yet as of 5:30 p.m. of Monday, May 18.
The Project Balik Buhay was an initiative of Dino and Mayors Edgardo Labella of Cebu City, Jonas Cortes of Mandaue City, and Junard Chan of Lapu-Lapu City.
The three cities, where the bulk of the working population in the island is found, targeted 39,564 residents to undergo mass testing or 10 percent of the total number of households in these localities.
After the May 15 deadline, only 25,498 have been tested in the three cities.
Of its target 17,536 people, Cebu City was only able to test 6,205 individuals. Mandaue City, on the other hand, accomplished 11,561 rapid tests out of its 11,632 target while Lapu-Lapu City tested 7,732 people of its 10,477 target.
The three cities are planning to extend the strategic mass testing to May 21 so they could reach the target number of test takers.
The data obtained from testing will reportedly be used to determine the next move of the cities in the fight against COVID-19. In fact, the three mayors have used the mass testing as the reason why they wanted to stay under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases, last week, granted the request of the cities of Cebu and Mandaue.
Lapu-Lapu City, however, was not included in the extended ECQ and would have to relax its measures to a general community quarantine (GCQ).
In another Project Balik Buhay virtual press conference on Monday, May 18, Loreche said there are four brands that are being used in the rapid testing in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu.
These include CTK Biotech, Biolidics Limited, Innovita Biological Technology, and Vazyme Medical.
Loreche said she will not approve any usage of brands that did not have the nod of the FDA.
Dr. Jaime Bernadas, DOH-7 director, emphasized that they have advised the LGUs to use only those that were approved by the FDA.
“Remember we are not the procuring entity and we never recommend any brand,” he said in a Viber message.
“On the process, there are biosafety protocols followed in the lab(oratory) including that of the tests and the laboratories who conduct them. Arrangements for these labs and with the volunteer workers are with the local government based on agreed guidelines,” he added.
During a council session last Friday, May 15, Cebu City Councilor Renato Osmena Jr said the test kits were priced at P800 each which is lower compared to the ones sold in the market.
He was not clear though if these were donated or procured by the government. He insisted that if they were dishonest, they would have jacked up prices.
In a virtual presscon this afternoon, Cebu City Legal Office chief Rey Gealon confirmed that public funds were spent for the strategic mass testing using rapid diagnostic tests.
He did not mention how much was spent specifically for the purchase of rapid diagnostic test kits but said the source of funds is from the city’s supplemental budget no. 2 totaling P2 billion as “response, relief, recovery” in the fight against the COVID-19.
During the briefing, Gealon showed a video clip of the mass testing where people are extracted with blood samples for the rapid mass testing. He appealed to the residents of Cebu City to allow themselves to be tested. With a report from Ador Vincent Mayol
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