PH will not ban use of rapid tests, but DOH to issue clear guidelines

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 10) — The Department of Health will not recommend completely scrapping the use of rapid antibody tests in the Philippines even after several doctors said that this may have caused the rise of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Health spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire on Monday said the government is not keen on issuing a nationwide ban on the use of rapid antibody tests as it can still be used to identify recovering patients.

The health official made it clear that the rapid antibody test kits will not be used to confirm or rule out a coronavirus infection as it detects the presence of antibodies in a person’s body, not the infection. Antibodies may not be produced during the early stages of the disease, making the test less accurate.

"Not really totally banning pero kailangan appropriate ang use at kailangan naka-align paano gagamitin ang rapid antibody test. Hindi talaga pwede for screening," she said in an online media forum.

[Translation; We are not banning it but it must be used appropriately. We have to be aligned on how to properly use the rapid antibody test. It cannot be used for screening.]

Rapid test kits have been widely used in the country as industries reopen following the easing of movement restrictions. Last week, a member of the Philippine College of Physicians and the Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine said the use of rapid antibody test as basis to let employees go back to work might have contributed in the spread of the coronavirus, leading to clusters of transmission in workplaces.

Vergeire reiterated that rapid tests cannot be used as a standalone test. She said a patient should still undergo reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test as it remains to be the "gold standard" in detecting the presence of the virus.

She said authorities are crafting a guideline on the proper use of different testing methodologies in the country. She added that the technical advisory group and an expert panel have been consulted in finalizing the rules that will determine when rapid antibody test, antigen tests, and RT-PCR tests can be conducted.

Ruling out the use of rapid tests as a screening process is among the goals of the Department of Health after the two-week modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. This was one of the objectives of their updated COVID-19 response plan to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Vergeire said the DOH will be stricter in requiring the testing laboratories to submit their COVID-19 data. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has ordered that sanctions — even possible suspension — be imposed on laboratories that will not comply. Vergeire said that as of now, only 70 percent of laboratories are submitting their requirements.