PH Health Dept says faulty COVID-19 test kits not donated by China after embassy outcry

Members of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine unload  test kits donated by China to be delivered to subnational testing labs on Saturday <i>Photo: Department of Health / FB </i>
Members of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine unload test kits donated by China to be delivered to subnational testing labs on Saturday Photo: Department of Health / FB

The Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) took back a statement made over the weekend about discarding unreliable COVID-19 test kits donated by the Chinese government, instead saying yesterday that the kits were donated by an unnamed “private foundation.”

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire had said in a briefing on Saturday that the DOH discarded an unspecified number of test kits from China because of concerns over their accuracy.

“The first batch of test kits from China saw only a 40 percent accuracy, so we didn’t use them,” she said in English and Filipino.

She added that the Research Institute of  Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa (RITM), the foremost testing center in the country, does parallel tests on kits with the World Health Organization (WHO), and only those approved by both RITM and WHO will be cleared for use.

However, in its statement the next day, DOH clarified that two sets of rapid test kits donated by the Chinese government (2,000 BGI RT-PCR test kits and 100,000 Sansure RT-PCR kits) were evaluated by the RITM “to be at par with test kits provided by the World Health Organization after parallel testing was done.”

“Moreover, Sansure test kits contained all required reagents to run the test successfully. This means that no other reagents will need to be separately procured by the Philippine government to use the test kits,” the DOH said.

The agency said that the kits Vergeire mentioned in the briefing were “donated by a private organization,” without naming the name of the institution.

“DOH apologizes for any confusion that previously issued statements have caused,” it added.

The retraction came after Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian decried the alleged test inaccuracies yesterday, calling them “irresponsible,” and maintaining “there is nothing wrong with the real-time polymerase chain reaction machine which is used for generating [a] positive or negative result.”

The Chinese embassy said in its statement that both batches of test kits donated by the Chinese government “are of high quality and standards and have no accuracy problems, which are being used in Philippine test laboratories and have helped accelerate the testing process.”

“At this moment of crisis, we should fight in solidarity to overcome the epidemic at the earliest date,” they added.

The spat, however, wasn’t the only one arising from questionable Chinese tests. Earlier last week, Spain said it would return 58,000 test kits to China because they were only 30 percent accurate, The Guardian reports, and both the Czech Republic and India have raised similar concerns over alleged substandard kits, according to the India Times.

Read: Baby girl from Calapan City tests positive for COVID-19 in Oriental Mindoro’s first confirmed case

Meanwhile, the Philippines has so far recorded a total of 1,418 COVID-19 cases, including 71 deaths and 42 recoveries. At least 12 doctors have died from the disease.

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