WHO lists priority groups for COVID testing

    WHO Headquarters.

    THE World Health Organization (WHO) representative in the Philippines on Tuesday recommended prioritizing of people with severe health conditions and ailments, the elderly, and symptomatic patients in testing for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

    Dr. Rabindra Abeyashinghe, at the “Laging Handa” public briefing, said 90 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases were due to transmission by symptomatic persons.

    “There are many reasons to test the people and in the situation that the Philippines is in right now, our recommendations are the limited testing that is available should be used to test people that are symptomatic and test people with pneumonia and acute respiratory syndrome,” he said.

    Abeyashinghe said the test should also be done on people who are severely ill and the elderly as tests results could be used to identify potential other carriers.

    “This is not only to confirm infection in a patient who is severely ill but it also helps to quickly identify other people who are infected and reduce transmission through rapid contact tracing,” he added.

    Abeyashinghe made the statement amid criticisms arising from courtesy accorded some politicians and ranking government officials and their families who were tested despite being asymptomatic.

    The Department of Health said high-level officials and those considered as VIPs (very important persons) along with certain personalities got tested only after they met certain criteria like being exposed to persons with confirmed COVID-19, and had travel histories.


    Abeyashinghe said test results can identify infected persons and those who have been exposed to them through contact tracing.

    He said people showing symptoms of coronavirus infection should practice physical distancing and wear mask to avoid spreading the COVID-19.

    Abeyashinghe said WHO also recommends that priority should be given to the health workers on the distribution of surgical masks following a world shortage on masks and personal protective equipment.

    He said there is a need to protect the health workers because “if they fall sick, there would be no one to provide support and care for the sick people.”

    Abeyashinghe recognized the rise in homemade face masks which he said is not encouraged by WHO but accepts it as a “stopgap measure.”

    “Unfortunately, we are in a situation where there is a global shortage of masks and personal protective equipment so we have seen in many situation people using do-it-yourself kits. The issue with that is they are not 100 percent protected but they will provide some degree of protection,” he said.

    “In the circumstances, any protection is better than no protection,” he added.

    The Department of Health said there are now 552 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, 35 deaths and 19 recovered patients.

    Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, in a TV interview, said the department is looking to make to make another change in the criteria of testing suspected COVID-19 cases with the arrival of more testing kits and laboratories being opened.

    Under the criteria currently used by the DOH, eligible for testing are persons under investigation (PUIs) with mild symptoms who are elderly, with underlying conditions, immuno-compromised; and those in severe and critical conditions.

    “There would have to be re-calibration of those testing criteria because now we have more testing kits,” said Duque. “We will study this since we have also opened more testing centers, subnational laboratories.”

    The Food and Drug Administration has approved diagnostic testing kits, from China, South Korea, Singapore, and Germany.

    Duque is also referring to the designation of sub-national laboratories, namely University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health, San Lazaro Hospital, Baguio General Hospital & Medical Center, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, and Southern Philippines Medical Center.

    The FDA on Tuesday said there remains no approved point-of-care or instant COVID-19 testing kits in the country.

    Such products are those that immediately provide results in a matter of minutes, like pregnancy test kits.

    “There is no evidence yet that will support the use of lateral flow rapid (IgG/IgM) test in confirming COVID-19,” it said.

    According to the FDA, all approved testing kits in the country are those using real time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).

    The FDA issued the reminder amid the continued sale of do-it-yourself supposed COVID-19 testing kits being sold online. — With Gerard Naval

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