De Lima on mass testing for COVID-19: What is taking us so long?


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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima slams health authorities for delaying the implementation of national testing for COVID-19 even after admitting that they are in possession of thousands of test kits, both purchased and received from foreign donors.

De Lima also joins the calls of several groups and personalities who are petitioning the government to immediately start mass testing in highly-populated areas, especially to cities or municipalities with widespread poverty and vulnerable societies.

“Ilan pa ba sa ating mga kababayan – mga health workers, frontliners, PUIs, PUMs, at mamamayang bulnerable, gaya ng mga matatanda at may malulubhang karamdaman – ang mamamatay na lamang bago pa matiyak na may COVID-19 sila at mabigyan ng karampatang gamutan?” she asks.

“Kailan pa natin masisiguro ang kaligtasan ng lahat mula sa posibleng pagkakahawa sa mga hindi nagpapakita ng sintomas, ngunit nagdadala ng virus? Kailan pa ba natin balak kumilos, kapag madami na ang namatay?” she added.

Scientists, health groups, youth organizations, politicians and prominent personalities, among others, have raised concerns on why the Department of Health (DOH) has repeatedly downplayed the importance of widespread testing.

Even the World Health Organization have repeatedly urged countries to “test, test, test”, emphasizing the need of a clearer picture of the extent of the pandemic in the country for a more focused response to mitigate the virus’ effects.

The health department also claimed that they are still waiting for the accreditation of more laboratories capable of testing multiple samples at a time, across the country.

“Day by day, we learn that the total no. of confirmed cases reportedly increases, yet we cannot be certain of the accuracy of these figures. Even DOH Secretary Duque admitted that they could be missing half of the actual totality of COVID-19 cases in the country,” De Lima said.

“It’s as if you are trying to conceal the real numbers – the question is why? To lessen the panic, or to feed your bruised ego?”, she added.

As of March 26, official numbers indicate that there are 707 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, with 45 fatalities. However, experts believe that the estimates are not consistent with global data due to the limited number of tests conducted in the country.

Despite having announced that almost 7,000 persons are considered as PUIs (Persons under Investigation) and PUMs (Persons under Monitoring), the DOH have only conducted less than 2,000 tests.

“What is taking us so long? Figuring out how to conduct mass testing for its citizens should be high on the government’s priority list if we are to make it through this pandemic,” the lady Senator from Bicol said.

“The sooner we identify who are afflicted with this virus, the sooner we can isolate them and get them treated. Conversely, the more we wait the more resources we waste. The more resources we waste, the more people will be infected and inevitably die from this pandemic,” she added.

To address the gap, De Lima recommended that both the national government and local government units (LGU) should divide the responsibility of mass testing, indicating that most local officials are capable and willing to shoulder the burden.

“The local government can do preliminary testing while the national government reserves the right to undertake final confirmatory tests. In doing so, the whole of government will be able to perform their duties in harmony,” she said.

“I strongly urge the DOH to strongly consider issuing temporary accreditation credentials and grant them limited testing capabilities. This will not only decongest other accredited laboratories to screen tests but will speed up the release of results and cover the bigger population waiting to get tested,” she added.

After the announcement of the lockdown, initially in the National Capital Region and later the whole island of Luzon, citizens have observed that local officials outshined their national counterparts in implementing measures to limit the spread of the virus.

The DOH also received backlash after reports exposed that high-ranking government officials who requested for COVID-19 testing were granted preferential treatment, while other patients with much severe symptoms, were left for weeks on a waiting list. (30)

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