Why PH will benefit from locally-made COVID-19 test kits

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 18 2020 09:25 PM | Updated as of Mar 18 2020 10:02 PM

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MANILA — In two to three weeks, the Philippines may finally get its much-needed supply of new COVID-19 test kits from a local manufacturer.

This as the country’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have breached the 200-mark. More and more people are also being categorized as patients under investigation, increasing the demand for testing and medical care.

Last week, the University of the Philippines held a press conference on SARS-CoV-2 PCR Detection Kit, which was developed by scientists from the UP-NIH and the Philippine Genome Center, with the help of the Department of Science and Technology.

Dr. Raul Destura, the man behind the kit, explained that it also uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology to identify if a sample has the COVID-19 virus.

While it only takes less than two hours for the procedure, the whole process will probably take 24 hours as with the current World Health Organization-donated test kits being used by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

Sample of the locally-developed COVID-19 test kit from the UP-National Institutes of Health as presented during a press briefing on COVID-19 at the Philippine Genome Center in Quezon City on March 12, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Despite its similarities with imported kits, the locally-made SARS-CoV-2 PCR Detection Kit has more than just a few benefits:

1. CHEAPER

Even without the cost of importation, the locally-made kits are much cheaper than the imported ones. Its cost of production is only P1,320 as opposed to the P8,500 price tag of imported test kits.

“By producing the kit, we can reduce the cost. By the simple reason that the cost of labor is also lower (in the Philippines),” said UP Manila Chancellor Dr. Carmencita Padilla during the press conference.

Lower prices would mean that more kits can be bought by the government and private hospitals. It will also be made more affordable for the public in case some won’t be covered by health insurance.

2. FASTER DELIVERY, MORE SUPPLIES

Because the kits are made in the Philippines, delivery time is significantly shorter compared to importing.

Healthtek Inc., which manufactures the test kits, also uses automated robots to be able to meet the increasing demand.

“We’ll be able to do it (meet the demand). The only bottleneck is the importation of raw materials,” Healthtek Sales and Marketing Director Maria Carmen Ocampo told ABS-CBN News.

3. GREATER REACH

Because it is cheaper and can be distributed as soon as it is made, Destura said the locally-made kits will “democratize access.”

“Places where the tests are not available now will now be covered,” said DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña.

Both of them said it will help the country identify as many COVID-19 cases.

De la Peña explained that more people tested would show a lower percentage of COVID-19 cases. “People will have a bit of assurance that the cases are not that many,” he said, adding that it will help prevent people from panicking.

Philippine Genome Center deputy executive director Dr. Raul Destura presents a sample of the locally-developed COVID-19 test kit from the UP-National Institutes of Health during a press briefing on COVID-19 at the Philippine Genome Center in Quezon City on March 12, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

4. SUPPORT FOR LOCAL SCIENTISTS

A more long-term benefit of buying the locally-made kits is recognition of our local scientists and research companies.

“Ang ating mga researcher ay world-class,” De la Peña has said, before lamenting the low budget that science and technology receives.

Ocampo of HealthTek said patronizing the test kit “will generate new technologies” as more scientists are encouraged to do research and work in the Philippines.

“We have to provide opportunities here in the Philippines,” she said, adding that Filipinos should show support for local technology and talent.

“It is not just Pinoy pride. We can say that Filipinos are really good and we are not inferior to other countries,” she said.

Destura, on the other hand, said the recent outburst of support from the public has been helpful for them.

“It has not been easy but we did our best because we want to show that we can do this in our country and we can address our own needs,” he said.

Before the SARS-CoV-2 PCR Detection Kit, Destura and Healthtek have also received praises for the Biotek-M Dengue Aqua Kit, a test kit that determines in an hour or less if a patient has dengue.