MANILA - Senators on Monday criticized the Department of Health (DOH) for not immediately procuring testing kits for suspected carriers of COVID-19, after the number of novel coronavirus patients rose to 10 over the weekend.
The DOH currently has 2,000 testing kits and is expecting to receive 4,500 more from the World Health Organization (WHO), said Dr. Alethea De Guzman, DOH Medical Specialist IV, noting that the agency is still reviewing its earlier decision that only travelers from countries with COVID-19 cases will be given the test kits.
"Maririnig namin sa inyo na you only have 2,000 testing kits out of a 100 million population... You think that is enough? Hanggang ngayon nagre-review pa kayo ng decision tools? Dapat ngayon umaaksyon na," Sen. Nancy Binay said.
"I don't want to panic, but you're making me panic kasi yung naririnig namin ngayon is parang hindi ninyo pinaghandaan na magkakaroon tayo ng local transmission," she added.
The Health Department has requested for P43 million "for various needs" but has failed to prioritize the procurement of these testing kits, said Sen. Imee Marcos, who led the Senate inquiry on the COVID-19's economic impact to the country.
"Bakit napaka-priority ng kung anek-anek na gagastusin sa P43 million, tapos nanghihingi pa ng P2 billion habang ang sangkatauhan ay hindi matetest kung may sakit o hindi? Tama ba yun," the senator from Ilocos said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said there was a "global shortage" of COVID-19 test kits.
"Sino bang may ayaw i-test lahat? Kung puwede nga lang, i-test mo ang 100 milyong Pilipino. Pero the reality on the ground is hindi kaya," he said.
(Who doesn't want to test everyone? If it's only possible, it would be good test all 100 million Filipinos. But the reality on the ground is, it's not feasible.)
The Philippines earlier sought WHO approval for some sample test kits crafted mostly in the University of the Philippines-Manila, Duque said in a February 2020 interview.
If approved for market consumption, the Philippine-produced COVID-19 test kits will cost "almost half" the price of its imported counterparts, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles earlier said.
“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.
FASTER PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENTS
The Health Department should also hasten its public announcement scheme, Binay said.
"Sa mga social media o mga Viber groups, kalat na na may isang eskuwelahan sa BGC na positive yung isang parent... DOH is not announcing kaya parang ang nangyayare ay nauuna pa yung mga Viber groups kaysa sa announcement ng DOH," she said.
"Bilisan ninyo yung pag announce, pag-disseminate ng information kasi nawawala yung kumpiyasa ng public... Naiintindihan ko yung problema ng DOH between balancing act and privacy of the patient pero dapat nananaig ang ikabubuti ng nakararami," she added.
The DOH earlier requested for a P2-billion supplemental budget as medical supplies deplete globally due to the spread of the novel coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan, China late last year.
President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a state of public health emergency, mandating all national agencies and local government units to "eliminate the COVID-19 threat."
The disease has killed 3,792 people and infected over 109,000 in 95 countries worldwide.