By Denise A. Valdez, Reporter
THE healthcare unit of Ayala Corp. (AC) is looking to take a bigger part in the country’s battle against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, allotting up to P300 million for initiatives to support testing and triaging.
In an online media briefing on Wednesday, Ayala Healthcare Holdings, Inc. (AC Health) said it had committed to build five biosafety laboratories across the country that would process 3,000 COVID-19 tests every day.
This is aside from previous initiatives of partnering with hospital operator QualiMed to build a COVID-19 referral facility in its Nuvali, Sta. Rosa branch, and opening FamilyDoc and Healthway clinics to serve as triage points for suspected COVID-19 cases.
“Within AC Health specifically, our program to date is about P300 million in investments and donations towards building out, for instance, Qualimed Nuvali, building out the biosafety labs, and investing in testing in general,” AC Health President and Chief Executive Officer Paolo Maximo F. Borromeo said.
AC Health will be opening next week a testing lab in Makati City in partnership with the Tropical Disease Foundation. In the coming weeks until June, it will be opening the other four testing labs in QualiMed Sta. Rosa, Batangas, Bulacan and Iloilo.
“With the network of five labs, we will be able to contribute significantly to the government’s goal of 30,000 tests per day by the end of May. We’re also looking to establish partnerships with other lab providers and hospital providers, including in big cities such as Cebu,” Mr. Borromeo said.
He said the government had been able to conduct 11,000 tests every day, but a lot has to be done involving the private sector to reach the target of 30,000 tests by month’s end.
One of the ways AC Health hopes to improve the process is by procuring automated extracting machines. Mr. Borromeo said this would raise the number of tests conducted daily to 800–1,000 tests versus 100–200 tests with manual labor.
AC Health currently offers COVID-19 rapid testing services at select clinics in Metro Manila at P1,600 for walk-in clients. Corporate rates are also available for companies that want to tap the company for testing their employees.
As the situation pushes most hospitals to focus efforts on the COVID-19 crisis, Mr. Borromeo said AC Health is finding opportunities to plug gaps in the healthcare sector, such as by advancing telemedicine and improving its pharmaceutical services.
The company launched in April a telemedicine platform, HealthNow.ph, in partnership with Globe Telecom, Inc.’s 917 Ventures. It is handled by AC Health’s technology arm Vigos and allows people to digitally get in touch with a pool of about 80 doctors every day from Healthway and FamilyDoc.
HealthNow is currently accessible through its website for free. By next month, Vigos Chief Executive Officer Christian Besler said the initiative will have its mobile application, which will allow doctors to offer paid consultations.
By July, HealthNow will link with Generika drug stores to have medicine delivery capabilities, and by the third or fourth quarter, will incorporate corporate healthcare facilities through FamilyDoc.
Mr. Besler said the goal is for the platform to become an all-around service provider to address various public health-seeking behaviors. Healthway, FamilyDoc and Generika are all brands handled by AC Health.
“For the Ayala group, I think the pandemic has shown how vital the healthcare sector is to nation building. For us at the group, it’s renewed our own commitment to the sector,” Mr. Borromeo said.
“I do think moving forward, it needs massive support and will require continuous investments from the private sector, both in terms of capacity building and capability building. So I think you’ll see more investments from us, from the private sector into the healthcare industry,” he added.
AC Health has long been planning to have a cancer network in its portfolio, with an initial goal of groundbreaking a P2-billion cancer hospital this year. Mr. Borromeo said this has been delayed because of the pandemic, but the project is still alive, together with plans to have a network of cancer clinics.
“Hopefully after the lockdown, we are able to build stand-alone cancer clinics… Our goal is to build a cancer network,” he said.
AC Health is one of AC’s newest investments which it projects as a long-term value driver to the company. Its primary businesses are in real estate, banking, telecommunications, power and water.
Earnings of AC in the first quarter fell 17% to P6.7 billion due to a decline in its property, banking and industrial segments. Its shares at the stock exchange gained P15 or 2.31% to P665 each on Wednesday.