Nearly 8,000 government-procured COVID-19 test kits expired

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 21) — Nearly 8,000 government-procured COVID-19 test kits with a six-month life span expired last year, a Department of Health (DOH) official confirmed on Tuesday.

"There were expired testing kits. I confirm," Health Assistant Secretary Nestor Santiago said in response to Senator Kiko Pangilinan's question during the Senate hearing on pandemic response funds.

"As per my record, there were 7,925 test kits," he added, noting these were supposedly for 371,794 tests.

When asked if these testing kits were all delivered by Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., Santiago said he is "not really sure because it is a PS-DBM (Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management) order."

But Pangilinan cited a Dec. 7, 2020 letter signed by Santiago himself, telling former PS-DBM chief Lloyd Christopher Lao to delay the delivery of testing kits "to prevent the repeat of a past scenario where a large number of stored BGI kits expired." Santiago also furnished Pharmally official Mohit Dargani a copy of that letter, Pangilinan added.

Pangilinan insisted that thousands of testing kits went to waste because their life span was shorter than the specification provided by the DOH.

The PS-DBM was told to buy RT-PCR test kits that will last for 12 to 24 months. But the DOH said the specification it gave to PS-DBM early last year was based on similar procurements prior to the pandemic. The department noted that testing kits had a shelf life of six months at the time. Health Secretary Francisco Duque provided the same argument during the same hearing.

But Pangilinan said the government should have negotiated for a lower price given that the initial specification requirement was not met.

Citing industry insiders, the lawmaker said, "when it is expiring in six months, you have as much as 25% discount." "Yet the full amount was paid," he added.

The PS-DBM bought testing kits from Pharmally at ₱69,500 per kit. Based on that price, Pangilinan estimates ₱550 million worth of public funds were wasted on expired testing kits.

"That gives us the gravity of waste, the incompetence, the corruption we are facing," he said.

The Senate has held a number of hearings on the COVID-19 budget utilization.

The legislative probe stemmed from an audit report that flagged the DOH's "deficiencies" in its management of over ₱67 billion pandemic response funds. These include the transfer of ₱42.4 billion to procuring agencies due to the lack of "required memorandum of agreement and other supporting documents," according to the Commission on Audit.

Of the amount, the PS-DBM got around ₱41 billion - a portion of which was used to buy testing kits.