Solons shift pandemic supplies probe to Red Cross ‘wrong’ COVID tests
MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers from the House of Representatives probing the supposedly overpriced pandemic supplies purchased by the government have now switched their attention to allegations that the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) released wrong results of COVID-19 tests done on health workers.
During the motu proprio investigation of the House committee on good government and public accountability on the audit report for the Department of Health (DOH), Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta claimed of reports reaching his office which showed that 44 of 49 health workers in Subic tested positive after availing of PRC’s COVID-19 tests.
Marcoleta said the health workers complained after only four of the 44 allegedly coronavirus-positive health workers were actually infected with the virus. The complaints, the lawmaker claimed, have already reached Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
“Some reports came to my office that there are private citizens calling your attention, I think they filed a complaint before your office […] it’s about a certain staff in a hospital in Subic, who were tested positive by the PRC laboratory in Subic. They are all vaccinated staff of the hospital, and because they doubt the result that they became positive, they had themselves re-tested,” Marcoleta told Duque during the House hearing.
“After three days, they had themselves retested in another facility, and 44 out of the 49, false positive Mr. Chair. Nag-negative silang lahat, ibig sabihin Mr. Chair, there is about 90 percent error in the laboratory of the Philippine Red Cross in Subic,” he added. “Mukhang nakaka-alarm po ‘yon considering our need to be very accurate in our data, mahirap po ito kapag hindi na ninyo na-ayos ito.”
(After three days, they had themselves retested in another facility, and 44 out of the 49, false-positive Mr. Chair. They all tested negative Mr. Chair, there is about 90 percent error in the laboratory of the Philippine Red Cross in Subic. This seems alarming considering our need to be very accurate in our data, this would be a problem if not fixed.)
Quezon 2nd District Rep. David Suarez, who is also vice-chairperson of the committee, also brought up the issue, stating that it has taken a huge mental toll on the health workers had they accepted the PRC’s test results.
“Ngayon, the mental anguish, the anxiety, and stress caused to those individuals cannot be explained. Ang mas malungkot pa dito Mr. Chairman, kung ‘yong 40 na ‘yon ay hindi nakapag-retest at napilitang mag-isolate, na hindi naman pala sila tunay na positibo sa COVID-19,” Suarez said.
(Now, the mental anguish, the anxiety, and stress caused to those individuals cannot be explained. What’s sadder about this Mr. Chairman, is if those 40 did not have themselves re-tested and were forced to isolate if they believed that they were actually not positive for COVID-19.)
“Mr. Chair I would like to stress this point because Secretary Duque, 14 days isolation is no joke. And I do understand that 14 days of isolation is necessary for those who are truly tested positive. So we really need to look into how the testing is being done especially if this testing is being paid for. Kasi dito tinitignan natin, patuloy na tumataas ‘yong bilang ng COVID positives natin. How sure are we?” he added.
(Because now we would look at this, the COVID-19 cases are rising. How sure are we?)
INQUIRER.net has sought the side of PRC regarding the issue, but they have not yet replied as of posting time.
Duque confirmed that the DOH and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) are investigating the incident, but they have declined to comment thoroughly on the issue as no conclusion has been made yet.
“Kaya nga po kanina akin pong binigyang diin na ang imbestigasyon ay isinagawa kaagad ng Department of Health at saka ng RITM […] unless the results of the investigation come out, ay mahirap naman po akong magsabi, na ito na ‘yong conclusion dahil wala pa naman po tayong resulta,” Duque said.
(That’s why I stressed a while ago that the investigation was launched immediately by the Department of Health and the RITM… unless the results of the investigation come out, it would be hard for me to say that this is already the conclusion because we still do not have a result.)
Both the House committee and the Senate were investigating the alleged overpriced procurement of pandemic supplies by the government after COA flagged P67.32 billion of DOH’s COVID-19 funds. However, committee officials and members have chided the probe being done by the Senate blue ribbon committee, which is headed by Senator Richard Gordon.
Gordon is also chair of the PRC.
The Senate committee recently focused on the alleged overpriced pandemic supplies provided by Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.,
According to COA, P67.32 billion of DOH’s funds contained deficiencies, including P42 billion fund transfers made by the health agency mostly to the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).
Pharmally managed to bag P8.7 billion worth of contracts in 2020 despite only having a P625,000 capital, and sold face masks at over P27 apiece while a local supplier offered it for only P13.
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