WE have the money, there are test kits available that can determine quickly the presence of the 2019-novel Coronavirus, why don’t we buy them?”
This summarizes Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino’s admonition to Secretary of Health Francisco Duque last Tuesday when the health secretary appeared at the Senate hearing on the government’s response to the current public health emergency — the outbreak of 2019-novel Coronavirus that causes acute respiratory disease.
Tolentino urged the Department of Health to use the P2.25 billion fund that President Duterte had approved to purchase test kits that would immediately detect novel coronovirus (2019-nCoV) infection. During the public hearing of the Senate committee on health, Duque admitted the lack of rapid diagnostic test kits for the virus has delayed the confirmation of the nCoV virus infection among persons under investigation (PUIs).
The senator said the test kits should take priority rather than surgical masks, gloves, and protective suits for health workers and staff who take care of patients, at least at this initial period of fighting the virus which is threatening to become a world-wide pandemic.
“Given that you have the necessary budget for the chemical suits, what is important is to detect [the virus] at the ground level. Sino ba talaga and infected sa hindi (Who are those infected and who are not)? Sino ba talaga ang may virus sa wala (Who are those carrying the virus and those who are not)?” Tolentino told Duque.
“Kapag mga ganitong sitwasyon, dapat proactive tayo. May available namang mga test kit, bakit hindi tayo bumili (In this situation, we should be proactive. There are available test kits, why don’t we buy some)?” he also asked. The senator particularly referred to the rapid nucleic test kit developed in Jiangsu, China, which can reportedly detect the presence of the virus within 8 to 15 minutes.
On Wednesday, Tolentino welcomed the test kits developed by medical experts in the University of the Philippines National Institute of Health. The UP experts are scheduled to provide their test kits to the DOH next week for evaluation, but even so, the senator already notified Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez to coordinate with the UP health experts in making the test kits available in the market.
The nation waited for a week for Japan to give us test kits or ribonucleic acid (RNA) primers for the accurate detection of the virus, which the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City is using. This primer would reportedly yield results within 48 hours. Prior to this, swabs and samples are sent to the Victoria research institution in Australia to either confirm or rule out the presence of the nCoV in a suspected patient.
In appealing to DOH to prioritize the purchase of test kits, Tolentino said, “Kung malalaman agad natin kung sino ang infected ng virus, mas magiging madali na ma-control ito, mas magkakaroon ng kapanatagan ang mga tao (If we know who are infected by the virus, then it would be easier for us to control this, and people would feel more secure).”
As of Tuesday, the DOH said PUIs have reached 105. One male Chinese had died, his female companion is under quarantine in a hospital, and a third patient was confirmed by the DOH yesterday as having contracted the virus.