By Nickky Faustine P. De Guzman

WORKING like a pregnancy test kit, the dengue self-test kit launched by the health care firm Philab Holdings Corp., through its brand LABitDX, aims to save one’s time, money, and worry, Philab president and CEO Darlene Berberabe told BusinessWorld on July 10.

The Dengue NS1 kit, which is currently available online through Lazada at P570, gives results in 15 minutes through its prick-drop-wait procedure. Like a pregnancy kit, two lines signal that one is positive for dengue and one line means negative. It can be used at the onset of fever, which is one of the symptoms of dengue — other symptoms are rashes, feeling weak, headaches and muscle pain, and vomiting, among others.

“We are advocating pro-active empowerment for the patients, [for them] to be empowered and take [a] more active role in their health management. If there is a tool that we can put in the hands of the patient, and you have the opportunity to screen yourself for dengue instead of waiting for three days — when your child has fever for three days, are you still going to wait for that long period?,” said Ms. Berberabe at the sidelines of the contract signing between Philab and Healthway Medical, a network of mall-based clinics for medical examinations and preventive health care consultations.

They aim to launch a dengue awareness campaign followed by making the dengue self-test kits available at Healthway clinics, but there is no schedule yet.

“What we are hoping to achieve is to cut down the time, and if you turn out negative in the test kit, you save on money, because a laboratory is P3,000. Again, it is a different way of arriving at the same conclusion but it is more cost efficient and efficient in time,” she added.

The self-test kit detects dengue antibodies in a few drops of blood through a reactive membrane, however, Ms. Berberabe clarified that the kit is a screening test only and not a diagnostic test.

An information sheet provided to the media mentioned its limitations: “Although this can provide a fast and easy way to get a result, the test does not completely exclude the possibility of false positive or false negative results.” In short, a positive result is not the final result.

“We are not saying that this is a confirmatory test, this is just a screening test, like for pregnancy, when it turns positive, you go to your OB-GYN to have it confirmed. So here also, if you get a positive result you go to the laboratory. We are not saying that we do not need doctors, but we hope to be available in the corporate clinics,” said Ms. Berberabe.

The self-test kit claims that its results are 97% when it comes to specificity and accuracy, which is validated by a third party institute from Thailand.

Ms. Berberabe said that if symptoms persist, especially with a negative result, users are advised to consult a doctor or take another self-test (the kit available online comes in sets of two).

Last year, Philab joined and won a Department of Health (DoH) contract to provide the agency with one million self-test kits. These are to be allocated nationwide to DoH accredited centers and doctors that can administer the tests. According to Philab, the health department soliciting bids again this year for self-test kit providers to provide them a set of 500,000 kits. No winners have been announced yet.

Still, in view of the kit’s availability online, the DoH is not recommending the general use of the dengue self-test kit, according to a DoH statement posted on its web site on April 23.

“We are not recommending it,” DoH assistant secretary Dr. Enrique Tayag told BusinessWorld over the phone on July 10 when asked to confirm this. He said: “It is still advisable that there is an attending doctor, kasi marami tayong sakit, paano kung may trangkaso ka lang, sayang lang ang kit (there are many illnesses — what if it was just the flu/cold? The kit would be wasted).” He emphasized that it is still advisable to go to health centers when feeling ill.

Asked what the DoH can do in the context of the kits which are available online, he said: “Well, negosyo nila ’yan, at wala tayong magagawa (it is their business and there is nothing we can do), but what the DoH can do is to tell the public be careful,” he added.

According to Ms. Berberabe, Philab is currently taking steps to register and have the kits approved and made available in other Southeast Asian nations by the fourth quarter of the year. Our neighbors, like Thailand and Singapore, also have many cases of dengue. In the Philippines, the kit has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

She told BusinessWorld that Philab understands the DoH’s apprehension because the technology is new, but she emphasized that the users are “paying for their peace of mind.”

“Before, we did not have this tool. And now we are hoping we can open up the mind-set of the government, regulators, patients, and families that have been used to not having this tool… baka dahil bago at di pa sanay (perhaps since it is new they are not used to it), but Philab is working on a new behavior [in terms of dengue prevention],” she said.

According DoH data, the number of dengue cases in the country has decreased this year compared to last year. Nationwide, there have been 35,973 dengue cases between Jan. 1 and May 20, which is 31.8% less compared to 52,780 cases in the same period last year.

Most of the cases were in Central Visayas (15.5%), Central Luzon (13%), the National Capital Region (12.2%), CALABARZON (11.4%), and Soccksargen (11.1%). The decrease cannot be attributed to the availability of the dengue self-test kits.