By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — The Department of health (DOH) is conducting market surveys to prepare for the issuance of an executive order to control the cost of reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) swab tests.

“We have already instructed our concerned offices to do the preparations, like survey the price range of the different testing methods currently in the market,” DOH Undersec. Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing last, September 30.

Vergeire noted that the survey will allow them to “issue specific guidelines as soon as President Duterte approves the proposed executive order.”

On September 22, Malacañang said Duterte may issue an order putting a price ceiling on the cost of RT-PCR tests to ensure its affordability as DOH said other tests even cost as much as ₱19,000 at this time.

Well, ang Presidente po ay nag-issue ng executive order imposing price caps sa medicines so I don’t think it is impossible for him to issue this executive order,” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said during a televised press briefing, appealing to healthcare facilities receiving donated testing equipment from the government or the private sector to bring down the cost of the coronavirus test.

“Ang panawagan po natin napakadaming laboratories, gobyerno po ang nag-donate o kaya pribadong sektor ang nag-donate ng makina at mga test kits, ibaba ninyo po ang mga presyo,” he said.

In a report by The Manila Bulletin, Roque said they are hopeful the implementation of pool testing across the country will bring down the cost of COVID-19 tests.

“‘Antay din po tayo, naka-pilot na po ang pooled testing. ‘Pag napatupad na po natin ang wide scale pooled testingtalaga pong bababa ang presyo,” he said.

In another report by The Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) revised benefit package pays only up to ₱3,409 if all the services for the PCR testing, considered by the DOH as the best or gold standard for determining infection with COVID-19, were done by the laboratory or hospital.

Considering different tests for COVID-19

In the same report by The Philippine Daily Inquirer, Vergeire said the DOH is still in the process of completing the guideline for the use of different tests for COVID-19.

“It has been stalled,” she said, noting the guidelines were supposed to be issued on September 11 but the Department was still studying the use of the “controversial” antigen test following the World Health Organization’s (WHO) advice it “could not be used in specific circumstances.”

Vergeire noted that an antigen trial, which will be carried out in Baguio City, should be completed first before the issuance of the guidelines.

“There are studies being conducted already. And the Laboratory Experts Panel has presented to us last week their assessment of saliva testing,” Vergeire said, noting laboratory experts, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) are also evaluating the potential of saliva tests in “accurately identifying” COVID-19 positive individuals.

“Antigen tests are used to determine current or active infections among patients. They collect and use swab samples to test a person under monitoring for COVID-19 in a process similar to the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests. However, unlike RT-PCR, tests that can take up to three days to process results, said antigen tests have only about 4-6 hours turnaround time for release of results,” the DOH said in its press release for the antigen trial.