Duterte economic adviser defends rapid testing vs 'all talk, no action' doctors

Presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion on Wednesday, May 20, stood by the use of rapid test kits on returning workers as the Philippines partially reopens the economy after two months of lockdown.

Concepcion strongly reacted to the statement of medical groups, led by the Philippine Medical Association, that rapid test kits on returning workers would be a "waste of resources."

"Ang problema nitong mga doctor, salita nang salita, wala namang ginagawa; complain nang complain. Ang mangyayari dito, magsasarado ulit ekonomiya ng Pilipinas, maraming mawawalan ng trabaho,"  Concepcion said during the government's Laging Handa presser on Wednesday.

(The problem with these doctors is that all they do is talk but don't to anything; they just complain and complain. What will happen is that the economy will close again and more people will lose jobs.) 

What's the issue?

Medical groups said it's still better to use the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests for returning workers.

While RT-PCR test kits use swabs to determine the actual presence of the coronavirus, rapid test kits can only detect antibodies.

Rapid test kits have a faster  turnaround time – results can be obtained in 45 minutes – compared to RT-PCR test kits where results are released in 24 hours.

The groups cited studies that when rapid test kits are used on a people with no symptoms, there's a high likelihood it will yield false positive results, which will unnecessarily force the person to isolation, and the company to do unnecessary contact tracing.

Concepcion said rapid tests are all that they can do for now.

"Ito lang ang puwede naming gawin, itong rapid test. Kung may iba silang test na puwedeng gawin, gagamitin namin pero 'yung PCR, paano natin gagamitin kung wala namang capacity ngayon?" asked Concepcion.

(This is all we can do for now, the rapid test. If they have another test that we can do,  we will use it but in the case of PCR, how can we use it if there's no capacity for that right now?) 

Concepcion is part of the private sector-led Project ARK which has donated 500,000 rapid test kits to companies for use of their returning employees.

The Department of Health (DOH) says that rapid test results shall still be validated with an RT-PCR tests.

That's why doctors said rapid tests should be "judicious and strategic and should be guided by thorough planning and implemented in the proper context."

No other choice

Concepcion said that if they do away with rapid test kits, employees would not be tested at all, and that may force the Philippines to go on another lockdown.

"Kapag naglockdown tayo ulit, masisira ang buong ekonomiya. Kapag nasira ang buong ekonomiya ng Pilipinas, mawawala lahat ng trabaho at ano ang mangyayari sa mga tao? Kukuha tayo ulit ng social amelioration? Masisira ang stimulus package kasi hindi umaandar ang economy, so we cannot afford another lockdown," said Concepcion.

(If we go on another lockdown, the whole economy will be ruined. If the Philippine economy is ruined, everyone will lose their jobs and what will happen to the people?  We will get another social amelioration [package]? The stimulus package won't work because they economy is not moving, so we cannot afford another lockdown.) 

He added: "So my appeal to all these doctors, if you have a better alternative, why don't you tell us the better alternative. You want us to get the capacity of the PCR tests? We can't; what can we do?" 

If the president believes in it...

Concepcion said that even Malacañang uses rapid test kits on its staff, visitors, and the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

Concepcion also said that big businesses and conglomerates also rely on rapid tests.

"If the President believes in it, and if the PSG believes in it, all the entrepreneurs in this county believe in it, then it does work. It's better to test than not to test," he said.

The government has been slammed for having no mass testing program until now, or even after it placed parts of the country, including the National Capital Region, under the strictest form of quarantine for two months.

Mass testing has proven crucial in stemming coronavirus cases, as shown by countries like South Korea.

The government instead has an expanded testing program where more people considered at risk could get tested, rather than the previous program of testing only suspected cases.

The Duterte government procured 2.2 million rapid test kits for this program. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

image