Duque: Red Cross faster than gov't in COVID-19 tests due to tech advantage

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 28 2020 05:01 PM

A medical technologist mans one of the stations at the Philippine Red Cross Molecular Laboratory/COVID-19 Testing Center. Photo from Philippine Red Cross Official Facebook page

MANILA - The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) has been undertaking more COVID-19 tests than government because of its technological advantage over state-run laboratories, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Thursday.

Some of the government's existing machines that process COVID-19 tests are still "manualized" while PRC's machines are automated, Duque told senators when asked why the PRC has a higher output of coronavirus tests.

"Bago na po 'yung tech nila kaya mas mabilis sila makapag-ramp up. 'Yung dati nating equipment na gumagana pa naman po ay hindi ganun kalaki ang outputs," Duque told a Senate committee on health hearing.

(They have new tech so they can ramp-up fast. Our old equipment still work but their output is not that big.)

"They have the advantage of the current technology, especially the one from China, may (which has) automatic extraction kits. Tayo kasi nung una, manualized tayo (For us, we were manualized)," he said.

As of May 14, 45 percent of the 11,123 coronavirus tests in the Philippines were done in PRC laboratories, government data showed.

Thirty-four percent of the tests were done in government-run laboratories, while 21 percent were conducted in private testing centers.

COVID-19 testing is also slower in government hospitals as each facility caters to several regions under a zoning policy, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told lawmakers.

"For a specific [government-run] laboratoy, mayroon silang (they have) assigned areas... As compared with the Philippine Red Cross, they (PRC) do not have a specific assigned area... Kaya po siguro malaki ang diperensya ng (That's why perhaps there's a big difference in the) turn around time between Red Cross and other facilities we have," she said.

Vergeire earlier told ANC that "operational issues" were also affecting the government's capacity to test possible COVID-19 carriers.

"One factor is the supplies, given that there is a shortage not only in the country but also overseas," she said.

“Second would be issues with our health human resources. Some of them may be affected, or some of them do not have the training or the capacity to do this kind of test,” she said.

Duque said the government is procuring more equipment to "catch up and find ways of ramping up our capacity."

Several senators are planning to investigate the DOH's procurement of machines needed to process COVID-19 tests after a hearing last week found that the government purchased equipment for P4 million, double the price of similar products bought by the private sector.

Duque had said that the DOH is already reviewing procurement documents to see why the questionable purchase was made, but Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said a separate investigation is needed to see if there was connivance among several government agencies.