Pangilinan asks DOH: Why favor China, S. Korea COVID-19 test kits over PH-made units?

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 21 2020 12:19 PM | Updated as of Jul 21 2020 12:35 PM

Philippine Genome Center deputy executive director Dr. Raul Destura presents a sample of the locally-developed COVID-19 test kit from the UP-National Institutes of Health during a press briefing on COVID-19 at the Philippine Genome Center in Quezon City on March 12, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Monday questioned why the government seemed to favor foreign-made coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) test kits, alleging that the imported units did not undergo "rigid evaluation" compared to locally-produced ones.

The Department of Health (DOH) still opted to use COVID-19 test kits from China and South Korea even when the Filipino-made GenAmplify RT-PCR test kits cost half the price, Pangilinan said in a statement.

"Ang sabi sa atin ng mga insiders sa DOH, walang kahirap-hirap ang mga imported test kits, samantalang pinahirapan talaga itong gawa ng Pinoy," he said.

(According to our insiders in the DOH, imported test kits did not undergo rigid evaluation, while Filipino-made test kits were really scrutinized.)

"Kung hindi pa natin kinalampag nung isang araw baka umabot pa nang taon bago gamitin," the opposition senator said.

(If we did not call for its use over the weekend, maybe it would take years before the Filipino-made test kits could be used.)

The DOH should explain why it did not prioritize the use and mass production of the more affordable Filipino-made COVID-19 test kits, Pangilinan said.

The locally-manufactured COVID-19 test kits were from the UP National Institutes of Health and funded by the Department of Science and Technology.

The locally-produced test kits are priced at P1,320, while the units from South Korea and China are priced between P4,000 and P8,000, the opposition senator noted.

"As concerned as we are for the health of the Filipinos, we are also keenly looking after the well-being of our state coffers," Pangilinan said.

"Every peso of meaningful, honest, and transparent spending and saving will go a long way, especially amid an economic crisis," he said.

"May kumikita ba at nakikinabang sa mas mahal na imported test kits?" he asked.

(Are there people who profit and benefit from acquiring more expensive and imported test kits?)

In May, the Food and Drug Administration said that the GenAmplify RT-PCR test kits had to be recalled and had to undergo revalidation due to contamination.

Pangilinan is expected to inquire about the DOH's "expenses for the rapid and PCR test kits" during the 2021 budget deliberations in the coming months.

In May, Sen. Panfilo Lacson raised concerns over what he described as a "pattern of overpricing" in the DOH's procurement of medical equipment related to response to the COVID-19 pandemic.