LOCAL government units (LGUs) have the authority to buy their own test kits for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III.
“Pwede naman sila. Basta bilhin lang nila ‘yung approved ng FDA para meron naman silang kasiguraduhan (They can do that. As long as they buy those that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration so they are assured) as to quality and safety of those tests,” Mr. Duque said in an interview over radio DZBB on Monday.
Chairman of the Union of the Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., in a separate interview over the same radio station, asked the national government to allow LGUs to procure their own kits to fast-track the testing of persons under investigation (PUIs) and those under monitoring (PUM).
He said current rules prohibit local governments from using public funds for the test kits.
“Kaya po ni-ri-request namin, itong public funds po na sa ngayon ay hindi pa po ina-allow ay payagan na pong ipambili nitong (That is why we are making the request, as of now it is not allowed to use public funds to buy) rapid screening test,” Mr. Velasco said.
He said it is important in managing the situation to immediately determine which ones among the PUIs and PUM are actually positive of COVID-19.
Mr. Duque, however, cautioned that LGUs should follow biosafety standards and to designate proper biosafety infrastructures and manpower to facilitate the testing.
Iloilo City has already purchased 2,500 test kits from South Korea using a P5.5 million fund donated by local businesses.
“Here in Iloilo City, the private sector came up with the funds for us to be able to buy test kits from Korea.
Masks are also given by the private sector. Now we see a lot of private sector, working together to produce improvised personal protective equipment for medical frontliners,” Mayor Jerry P. Treñas said during an international teleconference last week.
The mayor served as one of the reactors and the representative of LGUs in the first session of a webinar entitled “Expert Dialogue on Resilience, Public Health, and Human Security” organized by the National Resilience Council in partnership with ARISE Philippines, Zuellig Family Foundation, and the Makati Business Club.
The Western Visayas Medical Center in Iloilo City has been accredited by the Department of Health (DoH) as a testing laboratory for COVID-19.
Mr. Treñas lamented the national government’s lack of clear guidance and direction for LGUs on the COVID-19 response.
“We feel that we are isolated, no clear directions have been given to us on what should be done and what should be undertaken… There is a need for communication, for those in charge to continuously communicate the issues affecting the LGUs,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) is determined to have its testing center in Metro Manila operational by Wednesday, its chairman said on Monday.
“In so far as the other test centers are concerned, I’m forcing the issue, Wednesday dapat bukas na tayo (we should be open),” Senator Richard J. Gordon, chairman of PRC, said during the Laging Handa virtual press briefing.
The PRC laboratory was at stage 3 of 5 in the accreditation process as of April 6, based on the DoH report on COVID-19 laboratory capacities.
Stage 3 involves the three-day training of laboratory personnel. Under stage 4, the laboratory’s positive results are still subject to confirmatory testing by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. Stage 5 is full operations.
The PRC center has two machines capable of testing a combined 2,000 samples per day.
Mr. Gordon said the organization is also looking at establishing more testing centers in Luzon, Central Visayas and Mindanao. — Genshen L. Espedido, Charmaine A. Tadalan, and Emme Rose S. Santiagudo