The Department of Health (DoH) on Friday said pooled testing for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is only effective in areas where incidence of the disease is low.
In a virtual briefing on Friday, Health UnderSecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said that although the process of pooled testing is efficient, it is ineffective in places with a high prevalence of the disease.
The process of pooled testing involves taking individual swab samples from several people and testing them together in one batch with one COVID-19 test kit. If the pooled test comes out negative, all the people in the batch are cleared. If it comes out positive, then all the people in the batch have to be tested individually for COVID-19. Pooled testing has been eyed by the government as a way to efficiently utilize its existing stocks of test kits as it bats for expanded testing for the disease.
“Hindi siya magiging efficient kung gagamitan ng pooled testing ang areas na mataas ang prevalence (…) Ang pooled testing kapag ginamit sa high prevalence areas, pag pinool mo ang samples na ‘yan, ang dami pa rin na positive na lalabas (…) itetest mo isa-isa ‘yan at hindi magiging efficient,” she said. (Pooled testing won’t be effective if we use this in areas with high prevalence… if the pooled testing is used in high prevalence areas, if you pool the samples, there will be a lot of positive results… and you will have to test that separately and it won’t be as efficient.)
But low prevalence areas will benefit from the use of pooled testing, she said.
She added that the DoH is currently doing a pilot study of the testing method which is set to end next week. She added that the process could be implemented immediately after.
“We have some evaluations we are undertaking right now. Hopefully by next week, kapag natapos na ang evaluations, ‘yan ang commitment ng ating evaluators (once the evaluations are finished, that is the commitment of the evaluators)…. we will immediately start this pooled testing,” she said.
On Friday, the health department reported that there were 3,379 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 122,754. The number of recoveries reached 66,852 while the number of deaths rose to 2,168.
The number of COVID-19 tests done locally has reached 1.6 million, and daily testing capacity has exceeded 30,000 tests.
The DoH Undersecretary said the agency will soon release a comprehensive guideline on the use of different COVID-19 testing methods in the country. She estimated the guidelines could be released the week after next.
The guidelines will help those giving the tests on which kind of test they need to give at the different stages of the illness.
“Hopefully by weekend we will finish with the expert comments… hopefully by next week iprepresent na sa (it will be presented already to) the IATF,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ms. Vergeire said that the DoH is currently in the process of finalizing requirements in order to begin its clinical trials with the anti-flu drug Avigan. The trials are supposed to begin on Aug. 10. Ms. Vergeire said, “hindi nafafinalize ang legal documents (the legal documents have not been finalized yet)” but assured “it’s going to happen soon.”
The Japanese Embassy said this week that the Japanese government had sent the drugs to the Philippines for clinical trial use. Avigan is the brand name of favipiravir which is said to help treat COVID-19. — Gilliam M. Cortez