PhilHealth-Red Cross debt row affecting almost one-third of COVID testing in PH: OCTA group

John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 27 2020 05:20 AM | Updated as of Oct 27 2020 07:16 AM

A man undergoes a swab test by a Philippine Red Cross health worker. Courtesy of Philippine Red Cross

MANILA - The Philippine Red Cross' suspension of its COVID-19 testing this month largely affected the country's daily screening for possible infections, a group of analysts said Monday.

The OCTA Research Group said in a report that the Red Cross has contributed about 30 percent of the total coronavirus testing capacity in the Philippines and 38 percent in Metro Manila, the country's virus hotspot.

Due to the testing suspension which stemmed from the failure of Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) to settle its P1.1-billion debt to the PRC, daily COVID-19 test in Metro Manila dropped to 40 percent, and 40 to 50 percent if Calabarzon is included.

The analysts said reporting of cases were broadly affected in Quezon City, Manila, Pasig, Makati, Taguig, Pasay, Paranaque, Mandaluyong, Muntinlupa, San Juan, and Pateros.

The halt in testing operations also affected multiple cities and towns in Rizal, Cavite, Batangas and Laguna.

Since Oct. 11, daily new cases of coronavirus decreased in Metro Manila due to PRC's suspension of its testing operations. The OCTA analysts said they estimate cases from that date will increase by 200 to 300 more infections if PRC tests are included.

The group — composed of professors from the University of the Philippines, the University of Santo Tomas, and Providence College in the United States — strongly urged the national government resolve the issues between PRC and PhilHealth to get more testing operations and other coronavirus response programs running again.

"Without the testing facilities provided by the PRC, our isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing programs are crippled because the LGUs (local government units) do not know whether or not a person is infected with COVID-19 within the 24-48 hour time period required," the researchers stressed.

"Without the RT-PCR testing facilities provided by the PRC, our public health authorities and pandemic management teams are made blind because of less accurate information. Accurate testing
information and increased testing capacity are crucial to managing the pandemic. It against this backdrop, that the government ensure that the PRC resume testing as soon as possible," they said.

Fixing the debt row between the two agencies is crucial since PRC provides testing to medical frontliners and incoming OFWS, the group emphasized.

"An example of the crippling effect of the PRC testing break is that thousands of our OFWs are now stranded and languishing in quarantine facilities, at great cost to the government, still awaiting their tests and test results that have all been delayed because of the impasse," they said.

PRC chair Sen. Richard Gordon earlier in the day lashed out at PhilHealth, saying the agency would stop the "construction of new provincial molecular laboratories" in several provinces after the state health insurer failed to settle its debt.

"No payment as yet in spite of their numerous announcements that they will pay," he said. "How can we test if we do not recover our costs?" 

PhilHealth earlier committed to settle its P1-billion debt last week, but the payment was delayed after the state-run insurance firm said it would first seek an opinion from the Department of Justice.--With a report from Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

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