Mass testing ‘unrealistic’ in PH at this time: infectious disease expert

Christian Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 24 2020 11:59 PM

MANILA—New coronavirus cases in the Philippines surged to 552 on Tuesday intensifying calls for mass testing to cover even suspected patients showing no symptoms.

But adopting this strategy at this time remains “unrealistic” and will only put more strain on the country’s limited resources, an infectious diseases specialist advising policy-makers said Tuesday.

At this stage in the pandemic, resources should also be focused on protecting health care workers, making sure they are provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), and taking care of COVID-19 patients, Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana told ANC.

“So if you put too much focus on just testing and then you try to scale it up to mass testing… then people are gonna die because the front-liners will run out of PPE and the patients will not have people to take care of them,” said Salvana, who heads the government’s technical advisory group of COVID-19.

“As much as I would love to test everyone and everyone out in the hospital, we have to prioritize because otherwise, our health system is going to break down.”

TRACTION

The current Department of Health protocol for testing gives priority to patients with severe symptoms. But with more than 100,000 testing kits donated by other countries, calls have mounted for mass testing.

“I think the government, if this gets more traction, will have no choice but to listen to the people,” said Patrick Bautista, who initiated an online petition targeting 1 million signatures for mass testing.

“Community quarantine and physical distancing work better if complemented by a mass testing program,” he told ANC.

But Bautista clarified that the petition was not pushing for everyone to be tested, but for the government to “expand” testing to the regions.

He said priority should be given to health workers and other front-liners, persons under investigation or monitoring, the elderly and those with existing medical conditions. 

South Korea has been praised for controlling the spread of COVID-19 through mass testing in the early stages of the crisis.

But the situation is quite different in the Philippines because of resources that are also spread to help hospitals deal with the surge in patients.

“While I understand that what South Korea did was exceptional, and I would love to do that for us, that’s just not realistic,” Salvana said.

“The capacity for mass testing at this time is not there, and I think we still need to do targeted testing.”