BY CARLA P. GOMEZ
Senator Richard Gordon said the Philippine Red Cross is aiming to begin conducting faster and cheaper saliva tests for COVID-19 next week, but said their massive testing for the virus could be hampered by PhilHealth’s failure to pay PRC close to P1 billion for tests already conducted.
If PhilHealth does not pay, PRC may be forced to stop COVID testing for the public and will only be able to conduct tests for the paying private sector, he added.
PRC needs to be paid to replenish its stocks and to continue its operations, he said.
Gordon, PRC chairman, at a press conference at the provincial Capitol in Bacolod City, said that they have been working with the University of Illinois on the use of saliva specimens that is just as accurate as nasal swabs for RT-PCR tests, and are just waiting for Department of Health approval for its implementation.
He said using saliva specimens will bring down the costs of a Reverse Transcription – Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test to about P2,000 to 2,500.
PRC laboratories nationwide have conducted more than 1 million COVID-19 tests, which is the highest in the country, he said.
PRC is also setting up a molecular laboratory in Passi, Iloilo, to take care of the COVID-19 tests in Panay, said Gordon, who inspected the new PRC molecular laboratory in Bacolod City yesterday.
The senator also said PRC has an P18 million Samaritan Program to provide COVID-19 tests for the poor, that is why he is pushing for the implementation of the cheaper saliva tests.
Gordon said he does not expect a COVID-19 vaccine to be available by the end of the year, but perhaps by June 2021.
He said that while massive testing will help halt the spread of COVID-19, the real solution is for people to take care of themselves by practicing health protocols.
COVID-19 is deadly for the economy, he warned.
He said the PRC molecular laboratories around the country will also enable faster local testing for HIV, dengue and hepatitis.
Meanwhile, PRC is set to build more blood banks in Negros Island, he said.
Also present at the press conference were Negros Occidental Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson, Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer, Board Member Ryan
Gamboa, and PRC officials, including governors Jay Jalandoni and Jorge Lim.
Lacson thanked PRC for setting up a molecular laboratory in Bacolod City that has helped increase the number of COVID-19 tests in Negros Occidental.*