PH eyes local production of test kits for COVID-19

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 14 2020 03:32 PM | Updated as of Feb 14 2020 03:33 PM

Commuters wearing face masks pass through a turnstile at the LRT Line 1 Baclaran station, February 12, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN

MANILA - The Philippines is eyeing to locally produce test kits that could detect if a patient is positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), officials said Friday.

Sample test kits were developed by a group of scientists, most of whom are from the University of the Philippines-Manila, according to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. It will be submitted to the World Health Organization for validation before a market rollout.

Should the locally-produced kits pass WHO standards, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said it could cost just “almost half” of the foreign-manufactured test kits.

“We hope to be able to expedite the validation process with the WHO so that as soon as it is validated, we can make these local test kits available for all hospitals for use under physician’s discretion,” Nograles told reporters in Malacañang.

Currently, health authorities check patients for COVID-19 using foreign-manufactured test kits. Duque said the Philippines has about 3,000 test kits from Japan while another 3,000 was sent by the WHO.

“The testing we have done is about 500 so we do have a sufficient buffer stock of test reagents,” the health chief said.

While the Philippines is hoping for a speedy validation process for the kits, Duque emphasized the need for the test kits to be “vetted strictly for sensitivity and specificity.”

“We will have to apply the most stringent standards of accuracy and sensitivity,” he said.

As of Friday, health authorities have checked 455 people for possible COVID-19 contraction. Of that figure, 386 tested negative for the virus. 

So far, the Philippines has reported three cases, all Chinese nationals who came from the Chinese city of Wuhan, epicenter of the virus outbreak. One died on Feb. 1.

The acute respiratory disease has killed at least 1,400 and infected over 60,000 people in China.

MORE TESTING CENTERS

Experts from the WHO are also expected to arrive in the Philippines to help equip regional hospitals with COVID-19 testing capabilities, Duque said.

All tests for COVID-19 are currently accommodated by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. Duque said he hopes to expand the testing capability for the virus to Davao and Cebu.

“The reason being we want a quicker, faster turnaround time rather than let patients wait it out longer in the hospitals where they have been classified as patients under investigation,” he said.

The health chief said the government would also tap private hospitals for the COVID-19 tests.

“The effort to improve and to build up the capacity for quality testing does not end with the subnational reference laboratories but also we are enjoining the private sector, the hospitals with well-known and sophisticated laboratories,” he said.