MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte ordered Monday the immediate purchase of COVID-19 rapid test kits.
Duterte gave the green light during a meeting with some Cabinet officials on the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying he would take the risk and is "clearing the way" for the purchase.
"I will take the risk. I will order the Health department and everybody," he said.
"I said you can go ahead and buy it immediately. You have my clearance. Okay," he added.
The Food and Drug Administration, as of Monday, has approved the use of 13 rapid antibody test kits for COVID-19, including those registered for use in China, Singapore, and the United States, which it views to have reliable regulatory agencies.
But it advised the need for a trained health professional to evaluate and interpret the results since rapid test kits measure antibodies, and not the viral load itself. These tests also need confirmation with PCR based test kits, of which, 24 have so far been approved for commercial use by the FDA.
The FDA regards the PCR based test kits as gold standard.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said that while the Universal Health Care Law disallows the Department of Health and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation from procuring unless approved by the Health Technology Assessment Council, the Office of Civil Defense can instead procure the rapid test kits given that the Philippines is under a state of national emergency.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Tuesday confirmed Duterte's decision, saying the rapid test kits will be used in conjunction with the real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction-based (rRT-PCR) test kits.
"He ordered actually the spending of public funds for the purchase of rapid testing kits in conjunction with the PCR," Roque said in a virtual press briefing.
"Sabi po ng Presidente, 'the buck stops with me. I take full responsibility.' Bibilhin po natin yang rapid testing kits na yan. We will use it in conjunction with PCR," he added.
The DOH has repeatedly warned against the use of rapid COVID-19 test kits since these are prone to “false negatives.”
Unlike PCR-based kits, rapid test kits or immunoassay testing uses blood samples. Such kits are unable to detect the COVID-19 virus. Instead, it measures a patient’s antibodies through the blood sample.
Roque said using rapid COVID-19 test kits however can help in immediately isolating an individual who will show positive results.
"Uulitin ko po, PCR is still the gold standard. Yan pa rin po ang pinakamabuting test kung tayo ay may COVID. Pero dahil kakaunti ang supply at mahal ay isu-supplement po natin yan gamit ang rapid testing," he said.
COVID-19 policy response chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. had said that it will cost the government around P3.3 billion to purchase additional test kits so that it can detect the virus in over 2 percent of the population.
As of Monday, the Philippines has recorded 4,932 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Of that number, 242 have recovered and 315 have died.