DOH says it did not hear back from PRC on saliva testing for COVID-19

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 04 2021 04:37 PM | Updated as of Jan 04 2021 10:34 PM

Video courtesy of DOH

MANILA (UPDATE) — The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday said it is not true that it did not respond to the Philippine Red Cross’ (PRC) application for saliva testing for COVID-19 in the Philippines.

“We have already clarified this. And again, I will say we have issued this letter to the Philippine Red Cross last November wherein we reiterated the recommendations which were provided by the laboratory experts panel,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.

“We did not receive any response from them after that. And we thought na ginagawa na nila yung continuation ng study para lang magkaroon na tayo ng ebidensya,” she added.

(We did not receive any response from them after that. And we thought they were already doing the continuation of the study to get more evidence.)

On Monday, PRC biomolecular laboratories head Paulyn Ubial told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo that the PRC submitted its application in October for saliva testing, which is a cheaper alternative to swab tests, but it has not gotten approval from the DOH’s Health Technology Assessment Council.

But Vergeire said they specifically asked PRC to have its saliva test kits validated and approved by the Food and Drug Administration and for the study to include more participants.

She said there were not enough participants included in the initial study.

Ubial, who is a former health secretary, said a COVID-19 test using saliva samples would only cost P1,500 to P2,000, compared to the P3,800 to P5,000 price range of PCR tests.

She said the turnaround time for saliva testing is also less than 12 hours as opposed to PCR tests with results released at least 24 hours after.

In a separate interview on ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo on Monday night, Ubial said they only received a letter from DOH Monday afternoon.

'Nakatanggap kami ng letter, today lang, January 4, 3 p.m., ngayong araw," she said, in reaction to Vergeire's statement that they sent their comments to PRC as early as November.

(We received the letter today, January 4, at 3 p.m.)

Ubial said that the only letter PRC received was a copy of a letter sent by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Aside from asking PRC to have its saliva test kits validated by the country's FDA, Ubial said the DOH is asking PRC to conduct 1,000 more tests.

She, however, said DOH did not specify who will be shouldering the costs for the additional tests, which may cost around P20 million.

"DOH wanted to do 1,000 more tests, pero sino ang magbabayad niyan? (but who's going to pay for it)" Ubial said.

During a Palace briefing, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said of the PRC’s saliva testing proposal: “Hallelujah! Sana maipasok na sa Pilipinas ‘yan. And of course, we are asking the FDA for speedy evaluation para makakuha na tayo ng mas murang test laban sa COVID-19.”

(Hallelujah! Hopefully it can be brought to the Philippines. And of course, we are asking the FDA for speedy evaluation so we can have cheaper COVID-19 tests.)

Roque said the cheaper test might solve the PhilHealth's debt issues with the PRC.

In addition to the PRC study, Vergeire said the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine is also conducting its own saliva testing study. It started in November and will last for 5 months.

Vergeire said the results may be released by March or April.