MANILA— RT-PCR test kits acquired by the Department of Health (DOH) through the budget agency's procurement service (PS-DBM) were not nearly expired and also had a standard shelf life of 6 months, the agency said on Saturday.
During the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on Friday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed they bought P600 million worth of RT-PCR test kits that were about to expire in 6 months.
This, even if the DOH specified that test kits should have a 12 to 24-month shelf life upon procurement.
But the agency said the standard shelf life of the said kits by then was around 6 months, with an official also clarifying that it is "not near expiry."
"The test kits used to detect the virus were only developed in the early months of 2020. Back then, real-time RT-PCR test kits that were available in the market had a shelf life of only 6 months," the statement read.
The RT-PCR test kits that PS-DBM got from embattled Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. were delivered "on a staggered basis" and also depended on the country's demand, the DOH said.
Health Assistant Secretary Charade Mercado-Grande, meanwhile, said the RT-PCR test kits with a 6-month shelf life were "not near expiry."
The agency also "acknowledged" the short shelf-life situation but still "accepted the deliveries with this limitation" as the country responded to the needs of Filipinos at the height of the pandemic last year.
"That was the standard shelf life of those novel diagnostic test kits at the time. Additionally, test kits are fast-moving stocks that have to be used immediately since we are in a pandemic," Grande explained.
"Our COVID-19 laboratories were able to test our kababayan using these procured test kits," she added.
In late March last year, the Philippine government sought to boost its supply of test kits, masks and protective equipment amid increasing cases of COVID-19, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.
By April, the Food and Drug Administration approved the test kits developed by the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) and the Philippine Genome Center with the support of the Department of Science and Technology.
Pharmally, a company that supplied face masks, face shields and other medical equipment to the government, is facing allegations that its goods were overpriced.
In a hearing, a Pharmally executive admitted to borrowing money from former presidential adviser Michael Yang to fund initial deliveries.
Senators conducting the probe have also questioned how a company that was less than a year old with a capitalization of P599,000 was able to secure multibillion-peso government contracts.
The Senate probe was launched after the Commission on Audit flagged DOH for "deficiencies" in handling P67 billion in COVID-19 response funds.
— With reports from Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News
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