Coronavirus mass testing not needed for now – DOH

The Department of Health (DOH) said there is no need to conduct mass testing for now, despite a steady rise of novel coronavirus cases in the Philippines.

On Friday, March 20, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire was asked in a press conference if the country is capable of “aggressive testing” and if there is a need to conduct tests door-to-door, similar to what countries like South Korea are doing.

“In other countries, though it has been done like in South Korea, they did mass testing, pero ito po ay mayroon silang... well-capable ang kanilang health systems at [may] capacity for that. Sa ngayon po, hindi pa naman natin nakikitang kailangan nating gawin itong mass testing na ito,” Vergeire said.

(In other countries, though it has been done like in South Korea, they did mass testing, but they have well-capable health systems and the capacity for that. Right now, we still see no need to do mass testing.)

From just 3 coronavirus cases in February, the Philippines now has 217 positive cases of COVID-19. Of that number, 17 patients have died while only 8 have recovered so far.

Still, Vergeire said if the national government would eventually find the need to widen the scope of testing and if there are enough resources, then mass testing for COVID-19 – the disease caused by the virus – would be conducted.

“Ngunit of course, nariyan po ‘yan sa ating talaan, nasa mapa, nasa radar. Kung sakaling dumating ‘yong panahon na we have enough resources, the government can do it, and if it is imperative for government to do it, gagawin po natin ‘yan kung saka-sakali,” Vergeire said.

(But of course, we are mapping these out and the cases are in our radar. In case we reach that point where we have enough resources, the government can do it, and if it is imperative for the government do it, we will do this if needed.)

The World Health Organization (WHO), however, have already called for "aggressive" action in Southeast Asia to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus.

The Philippines has long been grappling with a shortage of test kits since the outbreak began, with the country mostly relying on donations from the WHO and other foreign countries. This is compounded by the growing demand for test kits around the globe, where at least 157 countries have recorded 217,510 cases of COVID-19.

This has forced the DOH to prioritize testing for severe and critical COVID-19 cases.

On Friday, Vergeire also admitted the Philippine health care system is “challenged” by the growing demand for novel coronavirus testing. (READ: Without test kits, provinces, cities fighting blindly against coronavirus)

For the longest time, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the DOH’s research arm, was the sole WHO-accredited laboratory capable of testing COVID-19 specimens. Five other subnational laboratories for coronavirus testing were opened this week, but they are not at full capacity yet.

The DOH is now moving to augment the country’s severely lacking testing capacity. The Food and Drug Administration has already approved 4 novel coronavirus test kit products for commercial use, though these can only be purchased by hospitals and laboratories with testing capacity. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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