By Patrick Villalobos, Contributor
AS the country reels from the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) crisis, mass testing is key to maintain the health situation under control and expedite economic recovery, according to an economist.
“Test, test, test, and isolate is the only way to save the jobs and livelihoods of our Filipino people,” Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo Founder Joey Concepcion told the health experts, government officials and businessmen during the recent Balik Kabuhayan cyber briefing.
He cited Project ARK (Antibody Rapid test Kits), an initiative that is anchored on the combined efforts of both the public and private sectors to make massive testing possible at the community level, that has so far tried 107,782 individuals, with private firms carrying out 66,617 tests and local government unit (LGU) partners finishing 41,665 tests.
Because of the lack of supply of RT-PCR test kits, a debate to test only symptomatic and not asymptomatic using rapid test kits continues.
Noting the initial data from the first batch of results from the private sector and LGUs that showed 94.7 percent of the asymptomatic individuals tested were negative, 2.2 percent were IgG positive, 0.1 percent were IgM positive and the other 1.4 percent tested IgG/IgM positive, he believes that regular testing is a must even to those who do not show symptoms of the illness.
“We have to test millions of people. That’s the only way to create visibility,” Concepcion said. “The results from the private sector show that if we did not test the asymptomatic, then this could have escalated to a worse situation.”
As the government opens more of the economy, he emphasized the urgency to come up with a defense strategy to co-exist with the virus, while maintaining the general community quarantine (GCQ) status and eventually move to modified GCQ.
Meanwhile, making testing affordable, available and accessible to the public remains important to help contain the rapid spread of Covid-19, per ARK PCR Private Sector Chief Implementor Janette Garin.
Project ARK is a good example of a private sector-led program aimed at reducing the cost of testing anywhere between P1,500 and P2,000 to P350 to P375 by the end of July via pooled testing.
“Pooled PCR testing allows us to balance health and economy. It will optimize the availability of test kits, reduce the workload on laboratory staff,” she explained. “When a workplace becomes infected or exposed, operations have to be suspended. This means loss of income, difficult life, small businesses will close down. When health meets the economy, when testing fills the gap in making social distancing, hygiene practices, and other new normal behaviors more effective, we can co-exist with Covid.”
A study that could help increase the country’s testing capacity, including asymptomatic individuals, is ongoing.
Dr. Raymund Lo, head of Philippine Children’s Medical Center COVID-19 Testing, bared that they are now in the initial phase of their research that will determine which sample pool of 5, 10, 20 is sensitive enough.
“As soon as the results are available we can roll out to other laboratories to dramatically increase capacity,” he said. “It can definitely be a game-changer because it will lower costs, speed in reporting and ability to test possibly ten times or more the current capacity of our labs.”
Filinvest Development Corp. Chief Executive Officer Josephine Gotianun-Yap pledged support for the pooled testing study, noting that it will make a big difference in the national effort to address such unprecedented pandemic.