Department of Health

DOH affected by halted COVID-19 test operations of Red Cross

Bonz Magsambol
'Malaki po ang daily contribution ng Philippine Red Cross sa ating daily output,' says Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire

The Department of Health (DOH) said on Thursday, October 22, that it is affected by the halted coronavirus testing operations of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).

“Malaki po ang daily contribution ng Philippine Red Cross sa ating daily output (Philippine Red Cross has a big contribution to our daily outputs) or the outputs for our laboratories, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual press briefing on Thursday morning.

Vergeire cited the big testing capacity of PRC laboratories, which are are distributed across the Philippines. “We are affected by the stopping of the operations of the Philippine Red Cross,” she added.

On October 15, the PRC stopped conducting free coronavirus tests for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), medical frontliners, and other Filipinos because of the state health insurer’s P930-million ($19.14-million) debt to the PRC.

Under a deal with PRC, PhilHealth shouldered the cost of the COVID-19 tests done on OFWs, Filipinos arriving in airports and seaports, and mostly public healthcare workers.

PRC called off these tests because of PhilHealth’s “inability to settle its ever-increasing outstanding balance.” (READ: Red Cross tells PhilHealth: ‘Please, pay us)

Meanwhile, PRC continues to test samples from the following:

  • Individuals who booked testing through their hotlines
  • Private companies and organizations
  • LGUs and other government agencies with testing agreement with PRC and whose payments are up to date

As a stopgap measure, COVID-19 testing samples that were supposed to be processed by PRC laboratories would instead be sent to other big laboratories in Metro Manila and nearby provinces while PRC and PhilHealth resolve their issues. (READ: Test samples for Red Cross shifted to big Metro Manila labs while PhilHealth debt unresolved)

Aside from this, Vergeire said that private laboratories have expressed interest in helping the government.

How is DOH affected?

The PRC has helped the country in ramping up its coronavirus testing capacity.

The PRC said it had conducted over 1 million coronavirus swab tests, representing 26% of all coronavirus swab tests in the Philippines. It also operates 21 of the 149 licensed testing hubs in the country, which are capable of performing 42,000 tests per day.

Based on the situation reports of the DOH, the country’s testing capacity went down to 24,774 on October 16 from 33,613 on October 15.

For the past days, the daily recorded COVID-19 cases in the country also stayed below 2,000, with 1,509 cases reported on Wednesday – the lowest since September 7.

The new daily figure on Wednesday, however, was only based on 133 laboratories out of 149 licensed testing hubs.

Rappler reached out to DOH to clarify if the relatively low cases reported was due to the halting of PRC operations, but Vergeire said that they are still getting details regarding this.

President Rodrigo Duterte said in a public address aired on Monday that the government would pay its P930-million debt to the PRC, and that he would look for funds for this. (READ: Duterte vows to pay P930-M Red Cross debt after COVID-19 testing halted)

As of Wednesday, the Philippines is behind Indonesia with the highest number of COVID-19 infections in Southeast Asia at 362,243 cases. Of the total, 43,990 are active. –

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.