Binay warns vs COVID-19 antigen testing amid surge as it may miss asymptomatic cases

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2021 02:18 PM | Updated as of Mar 31 2021 02:50 PM

Health care workers wait at an outdoor drive-through antigen testing facility in Cubao, Quezon City on November 10, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA (UPDATE) - Sen. Nancy Binay on Wednesday urged the national government to review its decision to use rapid antigen test kits in an effort to ramp up COVID-19 testing a year after the pandemic began.

Despite earlier studies that show the unreliability of antigen tests in detecting COVID-19 especially in asymptomatic patients, the Philippines' pandemic response task force earlier said it would begin rolling out 30,000 rapid antigen tests daily as fresh cases of the virus breached the 10,000 mark.

"Antigen testing is a hit-and-miss testing strategy," Binay said in a tweet.

"Antigen only detects infectiousness, 'di ang infection. It can only scan high viral loads, pero di siya reliable sa mga asymptomatic. Sa madaling sabi, it can do more harm than good," she said.

(Antigen only detects infectiousness, but not the infection. It can only scan high viral loads, but it is not reliable on asymptomatic patients. In other words, it can do more harm than good.)

Binay noted that the national government would have to spend between P375 million and P750 million for using antigen tests.

"We understand the convenience and the shorter waiting time, but I don't think it's a wise and practical move to spend close to a billion pesos on antigen kits," she said.

"The close to a billion peso price tag for a consumable quick fix testing ay sayang lang (will be a waste)," she said.

The government should instead boost the Philippine Red Cross' COVID-19 saliva testing program, which is more likely to detect the virus, the senator said.

The swab RT-PCR test remains the gold standard in COVID-19 testing.

EXPERTS APPROVE OF ANTIGEN TESTING

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Meanwhile, some health experts said Wednesday they favor the use of antigen testing to boost COVID-19 screening amid the infection surge. 

In an interview on TeleRadyo, infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante said using antigen tests would speed up screening and the isolation of COVID-positive cases as it returns faster results compared to the swab test. 

Antigen tests are also cheaper, he said. 

“This is important sa mga contact tracing doon sa mga na-expose saka 'yung mga quarantine natin (of those exposed and in need fo quarantine) so it will enhance, increase the number of individual na ma-test natin (we can test) compared doon sa (with) RT-PCR," he said. 

But he said the antigen kit to be used must have passed standards of the Food and Drug Administration and have over 80-percent testing sensitivity. 

Pediatric infectious disease specialist Anna Ong-Lim also agreed with the use antigen testing, noting that this has long been approved for preliminary screening.

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