PH Red Cross begins expansion of saliva COVID-19 test services

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 03 2021 08:14 PM

PH Red Cross begins expansion of saliva COVID-19 test services 1
The Philippine National Red Cross begins to conduct the newly approved saliva RT-PCR testing at their headquarters in Mandaluyong City on January 25, 2021, after getting the approval from the Department of Health. 

MANILA — The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) is beginning to expand its saliva COVID-19 testing services which it initially offered in its molecular laboratories in Metro Manila only, Sen. Richard Gordon, the organization's chair, said Wednesday.

"Oo, simula na 'yan at dumadami na sila - 'yung Araneta Center, sunod-sunod na 'yung mga Puregold, 'yung iba't ibang mga lugar na maraming tao," Gordon said when asked on ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo about the start of the PRC's saliva testing services in malls.

(Yes, it has started, and it is expanding to include Araneta Center, followed by Puregold, and other areas that are frequented by many people.)

According to a statement from Gordon's office on Tuesday, the PRC partnered with SM Supermalls (SCMC) by opening drive-thru saliva RT-PCR collection sites in SM megamall and SM Mall of Asia beginning the same day.

The first two collection sites are located in SM Megamall, Mega A bus bay at EDSA Mandaluyong, and at the 5 Ecom Open Parking in Mall of Asia in Pasay City. Both locations will only serve as specimen collection sites for the saliva RT-PCR test, and the samples will be forwarded to the Red Cross laboratories for testing.

"At ang pinapa-umpisahan ko, at pumayag naman si (Trade) Secretary (Ramon) Lopez, 'yung mga pabrika dahil mas mabilis 'yan, eh. At saka, pati si (Transportation) Secretary (Arthur) Tugade, tinawagan ko rin. Payag na sila sa mga buses, mga jeepney. At saka, dun sa mga estudyante, para makapasok na yung mga bata," Gordon said.

(And I have instructed to start as well, with the permission of Sec. Lopez, in factories, which will hasten the delivery of the service. I also called up Sec. Tugade. He approved the service for buses and jeepneys. And we are targeting students so that they may already return to schools.)

"Dahil ang pakay natin dito, makapasok ang mga tao, makapaghanapbuhay, kung alam nila na wala silang COVID. At madali nang malaman kung mayroong may COVID sa kanila. Every 14 days, magsa-swab sila. Kung minsan, hindi na nga kailangan. Pero, mabuti na rin yung nagsisiguro. Mas mura 'di hamak ito" he added.

(Because our goal here is for people to go back and earn their living, if people know they don't have COVID. And now it'll be easier for them to know if any of them has COVID. Every 14 days, they may be swabbed. Often times, it may not be necessary anymore. But, it's always good to be sure about their status. This one is really much cheaper.)

After launching the saliva RT-PCR testing for COVID-19 last week in Metro Manila, the PRC started to offer the cheaper and less invasive service in its laboratories in other areas of the country, such as in Bacolod City and Passi City in Iloilo, Gordon said.

He said companies may coordinate with the PRC if they want to test their employees, and PRC staff may also visit homes if properly requested.

"Ang hinahabol ko talaga..., dapat talaga, mapabalik na natin ang mga tao sa trabaho, dahil dun tayo mahihirapan. Maghahabol tayo, mas malaking problema 'yan 'pag hindi tayo nagpo-produksyon," Gordon said.

(What I'm really after is for people to return to work, because otherwise, we will suffer. We will either be catching up, or it might even be a bigger problem if there is no production.) 

"At ganun rin sa mga empleyado, yung mga BPO, pupuntahan namin 'yan. Magdadala kami ng tao dun kung kailangan nila, pati sa mga bahay," he added.

(Same with employees, the BPOs, we can visit them. We can bring our people there if they request, and even in houses.)

Gordon said that so far, only the PRC has been allowed by the health department to conduct saliva testing amid reports that some clinics have offered to do it.

He warned the public about other health clinics offering to supervise the said test as early as this week.

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"Mali 'yon ah, because ang pinayagan lang ng DOH (Department of Health) ay ang Red Cross," Gordon pointed out. 

(That’s wrong because only the Red Cross was authorized by the DOH to conduct such tests.) 

The DOH last week said it was still waiting for the validation study of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) before greenlighting saliva COVID-19 testing in other laboratories aside from the PRC. 

Gordon said testing against COVID-19 would still be important despite the arrival of vaccines. 

"Gumagawa ang PRC ng paraan upang mapadali at mapabilis ang pagte-test sa ating mga kababayan. We are heading towards nationwide Saliva RT-PCR testing to help industries and schools open in this new normal," he was quoted in the statement as saying. 

(The PRC is finding a way to make testing easy and fast for our fellow Filipinos.) 

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PRC chapters will serve as saliva sample collecting stations in PRC’s nationwide saliva tests rollout, the organization said. Collecting personnel will undergo training for the quality assurance of collected samples. 

The organization had said that its saliva RT-PCR test uses the same system as the one used with the nasopharyngeal swab samples. But instead of having a swab inserted into one's nostrils and throat, a person would have to deposit 1.5 ml to 2 ml of saliva through a straw into a container.

The saliva COVID-19 test is priced at P2,000 which may decrease if there are more volumes of tests, said Dr. Paulyn Ubial, head of PRC molecular laboratories.

The PRC has appealed to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to include saliva testing in its COVID-19 package.