MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) yesterday began collecting samples from 16 hospitals in Metro Manila and several indigent communities for its pilot saliva testing to earn full approval for the new COVID-19 testing method.
Dr. Paulyn Ubial, chief of the PRC’s molecular laboratories, said these hospitals include the Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center, East Avenue Medical Center, Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, National Children’s Hospital, Philippine Orthopedic Center, Quirino Memorial Medical Center, Rizal Medical Center and Tondo Medical Center.
The others are the DOH Bicutan Rehabilitation Center, Jose M. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, Sanitarium Las Piñas General Hospital, San Lorenzo Ruiz General Hospital and Valenzuela Medical Center.
“Hospitals will administer the tests that’s why there would be no difficulties. The nice thing about this, if the saliva tests are approved, all hospitals can have this,” PRC chairman Sen. Richard Gordon told journalists yesterday.
Gordon said Metro Manila hospitals would also benefit from the saliva tests as Red Cross conducts COVID-19 testing for health workers every two weeks.
He said he wants schools to be able to use saliva tests daily once the method is approved.
Several persons and indigent communities were also expected to submit saliva samples to the PRC headquarters in Mandaluyong.
Ubial said they would submit all samples to the Department of Health as soon as they collect 1,000 samples.
The initial tests the PRC conducted last October yielded a 95-percent concordance rate with the gold standard RT-PCR or reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction tests, according to Ubial.
This means that when patients tested positive or negative in RT-PCR tests, the same results came out in the saliva tests.
Gordon described the new method as a “game changer,” noting how it could substitute the costly swab tests.
He said swab tests should remain as the default testing method for OFWs, despite the use of saliva tests in airports in several countries.
In saliva tests, a method deemed as a cheaper and faster alternative in tracing the novel coronavirus, persons can spit in a sterile vial that will be sealed and documented for results.
Gordon said it would cost P2,000 or less.
Administering saliva tests does not require a specimen collector or a skilled professional to wear personal protective equipment, or expensive collection vials with transport media. It also does not need swab kits.
Sample processing time, according to the PRC, is also shorter with three hours instead of the 6-7 hours for swab tests. The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine was also conducting a similar study on saliva testing.
In October, the PRC proposed to the Department of Health (DOH) and Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) to adopt the saliva testing method in detecting COVID.
“We are expanding our testing services with more affordable testing which is faster and less invasive. Our proposal is based on sound studies conducted and approved in other countries. These results, as well as findings on tests conducted locally by the PRC, were presented to the DOH and the FDA,” Gordon said.
He said this efficient procedure aligns harmoniously with PRC’s goal to test more people and contain the spread of the coronavirus. – Cecille Suerte Felipe