MANILA — The government had no other option other than buying COVID-19 test kits with a 6-month shelf life last year, the drug regulator said on Wednesday, as some lawmakers looked into the procurement.
Several lawmakers have questioned why the health department bought the P600-million RT-PCR test kits that were about to expire in 6 months, even if the original request of the agency was to acquire kits with a 12- to 24-month shelf life.
"Since bagong-bago po ang teknolohiya ng mga RT-PCR test kit, talaga pong walang mahabang shelf life na test kits," Food and Drug Administration chief Eric Domingo said in a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.
"Especially po last year, by the middle of the year 2020, talaga pong 6 months lamang po ang available shelf life ng RT-PCR test kits. At ito lang po ang mabibili ng DOH at ng lahat po ng laboratoryo," he said.
(Since the technology of the RT-PCR test kit is very new, there are no kits with a long shelf life. Especially last year, by the middle of the year 2020, 6 months was the only available shelf life of RT-PCR test kits. And this is what the DOH and all laboratories bought.)
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III recently told lawmakers there was an "acute need" for the test kits when they were procured.
"Alam namin na mauubos din ito (we knew these would be used up) so it's much better to get them, to use them in effect to know who among the people are infected," he said.
But Sen. Francis Pangilinan noted that the government should have gotten a huge discount for buying the nearly expired test kits in bulk.
"Importante ito kasi kapag maaga na ang expiry date, dapat mas mura... Kapag malapit na ang expiry, ang bentahan niyan dapat mas mababa," he said.
(It's important because when a product is near expiry, it should be cheaper so it should be sold at a lower price.)
"Overpriced na, hindi pa tama ang specs," he said.
(Not only was it overpriced, it also did not comply with specs.)
The Senate is looking at alleged overpricing in other pandemic transactions, including anti-virus masks and face shields supplied by a company with supposed ties to Duterte's former economic adviser Michael Yang.
Duterte earlier said there was no overpricing, corruption, or ghost deliveries in the deal, as he scored senators for alleged politicking.
Video courtesy of PTV