DOH studying ‘pooled sampling’ for time-, cost-efficient COVID-19 testing

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 23 2020 07:01 PM

MANILA — The Department of Health on Tuesday said it is already studying the use of pooled samples for COVID-19 tests to help increase the country’s testing capacity.

The DOH said this after former Health Secretary and now Iloilo Representative Janette Garin said that the private sector was already looking into it.

Pooled sampling refers to combining the samples of several individuals to save up on the use of test kits. The samples are tested individually only when the result from the pooled sample is positive. 

“Ipagsasama-sama po ang mga specimen. At kung negative ang mga pooled sample, ibig sabihin negative lahat ng specimen na bumubuo ng sample na iyon,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire explained during a televised briefing.

(The specimen are combined. And if the pooled sample is negative, then it means that all the specimen are negative.)

This method is reportedly used in blood banking and to test other diseases.

Other countries have also looked into this method to address the shortage of test kits and limited testing capacity of laboratories.

“Pinag-aaralan na po ng ating COVID-19 Laboratory Expert Panel or CLEP ang pooled testing upang higit pong ma-maximize ang kapasidad ng ating mga laboratoryo,” Vergeire said.

(Our COVID-19 Laboratory Expert Panel or CLEP is already studying pooled testing to further maximize the capacity of our laboratories.)

Vergeire said pooled testing uses an algorithm, and the studies that will be conducted will determine how many specimen should be pooled together. They will also have to look into which laboratories would be able to use the procedure.

She said the study will first undergo an ethics review.

“Sa pamamagitan ng pooled testing, higit pang tataas ang ating testing capacity,” she said. 

(Through pooled testing, we will be able to increase our testing capacity.)

The DOH said on Tuesday that daily testing is only averaging 12,000 to 13,000 when the goal was to reach 30,000 daily in actual testing by the end of May.

While the country’s more than 60 laboratories can hypothetically run 50,000 tests a day, which is what the government eventually targets, the highest so far they have reached is 16,000 tests a day on June 17.

The laboratories are also still working on more than 4,000 testing backlogs as of June 21.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said 43,750 kits that can conduct 1,050,000 tests have already arrived in the country, while 16 bids for 239,857 kits, capable of running 8,544,282 tests, have been awarded.

Five bids are ongoing for 15,750 kits that can conduct 1,293,750 tests, he added.


Data from DOH. Graph from ABS-CBN Data Analytics
Data from DOH. Graph from ABS-CBN Data Analytics
Data from DOH. Graph from ABS-CBN Data Analytics