SURIGAO del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers yesterday slammed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for allegedly preferring China-made coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) test kits over local ones made by scientists from the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health (UP-NIH).
Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, said the number of COVID cases continues to rise because of Duque’s insistence on using the more expensive test kits, especially those made in China.
“I believe that the real reason for the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases is Duque’s refusal to use Pinoy-made test kits that are 75 percent cheaper,” he said in a statement.
“The real question is why Duque does not want a cheaper test kit worth P2,000 which is world-class and Filipino-made and seems to favor the more expensive imported test kits worth P8,000? These imported test kits are mostly made in China, is not reliable and takes too long for the results to come out. So why do they want it? What’s your reason?” Barbers said.
He made the statement as congressmen reiterated their call for the DOH to engage in mass testing, especially now that the number of COVID cases has reached more than 60,000. His statements also came a day after Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros urged government to use test kits developed by the UP-NIH. They said “locally manufactured, world-class P1,320 PCR test kits are gathering dust in laboratories” due to Duque’s inaction.
On Sunday, the DOH issued a statement saying the tests kits developed by UP are ready for commercial use, after being recalled in May over “very minor” defects.
“After several months of collaboration, we are proud to say, GenAmplify version 2, the country’s very own RT-PCR test kit, is finally ready for commercial use,” the DOH said.
Lawmakers said Duque’s blunders in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have eroded people’s trust in his department.
Barbers, Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor and Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin earlier backed San Miguel Corporation president and CEO Ramon Ang who said the government should scale up mass testing since “we cannot lock down forever because people need to work to pay for their meals.”
Barbers said it is hard to comprehend why the DOH would take long to approve the test kits developed by UP-NIH which was funded by the Department of Science and Technology and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The UP-NIH-developed test kit was approved by the PH FDA for commercial use and manufacturing with an estimated cost of less than P2,000 or 75 percent cheaper than the imported kits that were priced at P8,000 per kit.
The Filipino scientists’ latest interim report indicated that the kit had up to 93.96 percent sensitivity (ability to exclude false negatives) and 98.04 percent specificity (ability to exclude false positives).
These results, according to the UP-NIH, showed that the Philippines had produced a kit that ranked among the world’s best and performed better than some of the imported kits.
Barbers said majority of the poor or middle-income Filipinos could not afford the P8,000-worth China test kits which sometimes take five to 15 days for the “unreliable” results to come out.
“This is the reason why COVID spreads because those who underwent swab tests go home and wait for five to 15 days to get the results and if later found positive, they’ve already infected others,” he said.