Senators urge Duterte gov't to allow use of 'world-class' UP test kits

Opposition senators called on President Rodrigo Duterte's coronavirus task force to allow the use of COVID-19 test kits developed by the University of the Philippines (UP) National Institutes for Health which are cheaper than the imported test kits now being used more widely.

In a joint statement on Saturday, July 18, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Risa Hontiveros and Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said these locally-developed test kits are at par with the Chinese and Korean test kits being used by government bodies.

"The country is ramping up COVID-19 testing, but locally manufactured, world-class P1,320-PCR test kits are gathering dust in laboratories due to the inaction of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III," said the senators.

Chinese and Korean brand reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test kits cost from P4,000 to P8,000. The RT-PCR test kits developed by UP scientists cost around P1,300.

The senators expressed confidence in the quality and effectiveness of the UP test kits, saying an interim report shows they have "93.96% sensitivity and up to 98.04% specificity," indicators for accuracy in detecting SARs-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

"What seems to be holding Secretary Duque and the DOH (Department of Health) back from giving the go-signal for the use and mass production of this Filipino-made, quality yet less expensive test kit? May kumikita ba sa mas mahal na imported test kit (Is someone making money out of the more expensive imported test kits)?" asked the senators.

Using the UP-developed test kits could generate savings that could be used for other aspects of pandemic response, added the lawmakers.

DOH explanation

Last May 20, the DOH announced that the manufacturer of the UP test kits recalled the test kits due to a "minor defect," specifically, contaminated reagents that may have been the reason why 30% of samples tested came back with "indeterminate" results.

The manufacturer thus had to reorder new reagents to produce a new batch of test kits.

On July 10, the DOH told Rappler that UP-NIH was able to submit the new test kits which then underwent validation by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) had procured some of the UP test kits in order to donate them to certain laboratories. But before they can be used, laboratory personnel have to undergo training in the use of the test kits, said the DOH.

"We are helping them now so that their test kits can already be used by certain laboraties in our country. We will just give the final advisories to our laboratories so we can already use this UP test kit," the DOH said in a mix of English and Filipino. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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