Project ARK to private firms: Use only COVID-19 rapid test kits with high accuracy

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 25 2020 06:13 PM

MANILA — A doctor working on the private-led mass testing initiative of Project ARK said the public should not worry about their use of antibody rapid test kits since they are only using brands that have high accuracy.

Project ARK has been aiding businesses and government in increasing testing using rapid test kits since the gold standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing has so far been limited in the country. 

Last week, medical societies came out with a joint statement discouraging the use of the rapid test kits, which measure antibodies instead of the COVID-19 virus. The groups cited studies that show high inaccuracy of the antibody tests. 

“I’ve always maintained that not all rapid antibody test kits were all created equal,” Dr. Minguita Padilla said at a virtual forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).

What Project ARK does is “point them (partners) to the right direction,” she said.

“We are following the validation of these test kits around the world.
We are using the test kits that are at least 99% specificity.”

Padilla pointed out that the alternative right now is to not test at all, and that having a false positive would be better than losing one person to the disease.

“However, we have a protocol,” she said. “The danger lies if, for example, some companies who do not follow our protocol or some LGUs that are not getting guidance from the physicians who are using the kits properly would just do it on their own. Then you have a problem.”

She said those who decide to use rapid test kits should make sure that they are using the right kits and that they know the limitations.

She recommended that businesses interested in buying rapid test kits for their employees should consult a doctor who can refer a test kit with high accuracy.

Choosing test kits approved by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration is not enough since all test kits that have approval in their own country is being accepted without validation, she said.

Project ARK validates the test kits that they use to make sure that they perform well, Padilla said.

Former health secretary and now Iloilo Congresswoman Janette Garin said that while she understands the apprehension of many doctors in using the rapid tests, it is “a lot better than doing nothing.”

Garin, who is also helping Project ARK, said the ideal is to use both antibody test kits and PCR test kits. She said identifying patients through the antibody test, which can either spot those who are fighting the disease or have already recovered, can help identify areas where the virus has spread.

Although the DOH only confirms cases that undergo PCR testing, it has allowed the use of antibody test kits for preliminary screening. Those who test positive for antibodies are then subjected to a confirmatory PCR test.

Medical societies expressed concern that the antibody test results could also result in wastage in the health system because of the unnecessary isolation and testing of individuals who may get a false positive result.

Members of the medical association suggested observing the 14-day test instead, where an individual is deemed well if he or she did not exhibit any symptoms in the last 14 days.

But Garin said this may also be dangerous since almost half of COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic, based on studies she cited. She also pointed out that the large majority of patients who are mildly symptomatic “don’t feel anything at all.”

Garin said there is a danger that people who are mildly symptomatic might think they do not have any symptoms.