President Rodrigo Duterte (Presidential photo)

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday ordered the “immediate” purchase of rapid test kits to boost the capacity to respond to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) aired over PTV-4, Duterte said the government’s purchase of rapid test kits was being held “hostage” because it had to pass through the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Council.

He, however, pointed out that the rapid test kits have already received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States.

“I will take the risk. I will order the Health department and everybody. In the meantime, the private sector is doing it. Maybe we can take over someday or do it altogether with your help. I am clearing the way by ordering the purchase,” he said.

Cabinet Secretary and IATF Spokesperson Karlo Nograles, in the same meeting, told Duterte the DOH cannot directly purchase the test kits due to provisions under the Universal Healthcare Act or Republic Act No. 11223.

“The Universal Health Care Law specifically provides na ‘yung (that) DOH and PhilHealth cannot procure unless may approval ng (approved by the) HTA Council,” Nograles said.

However, he said that other government agencies may still purchase rapid test kits.

“Hindi lang puwede ang DOH at PhilHealth (The DOH and PhilHealth are not allowed to make the purchase) but because we are in the state of calamity, OCD (Office of Civil Defense) can purchase,” he said.

Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., the chief implementer of the national policy against COVID-19, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of buying not just rapid test kits, but also the Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests which detect the actual presence of the virus, even when the person is asymptomatic.

“We have to have safety for the false positive and false negative with the PCR. And also, in order for that — for us also to test the efficacy of the rapid test. So that’s the point sir that we have to really buy both,” Galvez said.

The Department of Health considers the use of PCR-based test kits as the “gold standard” for diagnosing COVID-19 infections but other faster alternatives have been developed such as the rapid test kits.

While the rapid test kits will yield a faster result compared to PCR-based kits, the DOH underscored the importance of having a trained health professional to evaluate and interpret the results.

As of Sunday, health authorities said 35,804 individuals had been tested for COVID-19. Of this number, 30,585 of whom tested negative and 5,187 were positive.

The Philippines has recorded 4,932 COVID-19 cases with 315 deaths and 242 recoveries as of April 13. (PNA)