THE University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (PGH) is currently studying the efficacy of the saliva test in determining the presence of the novel coronavirus, in a bid to lower the cost of more accurate Covid-19 tests and make them more accessible to the public.
Dr. Januario D. Veloso, Molecular Laboratory Coordinating Head of PGH said, “We are doing a validation study for direct PCR saliva testing here at PGH,” but clarified that the Department of Health (DOH) has yet to approve said test.
He explained, “Direct PCR [Polymerase chain reaction] means bypassing the RNA [ribonucleic acid] extraction step.” The virus that causes Covid-19 only contains RNA in its genetic code, thus effectively penetrating healthy cells, then recoding them to spread the virus in the body.
If approved, Veloso said the cost of the saliva test will be “less than P500 per patient.” At present, PGH charges P1,800 for the RT-PCR test, already among the lowest among medical facilities which currently run up to P6,500 per patient, depending on the turnaround speed for the results.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat has been batting for the use of saliva test, and had repeatedly proposed to the DOH for her department to pilot it in a destination. Many destinations are already opening up to domestic tourists but require visitors to submit to RT-PCR testing. Airports in Japan have already been using the saliva test to determine if a passenger has Covid-19.
The Department of Tourism (DOT), through its marketing arm, the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), signed a memorandum of agreement with PGH on Tuesday to subsidize 50 percent of the RT-PCR testing cost administered by government hospital.
With P10 million allotted for the subsidy this year, the program will cover only about 11,000 domestic tourists before the end of the year. During the online presser for the virtual contract signing, TPB Chief Operating Officer Ma. Anthonette C. Allones assured that the subsidy program “will continue next year,” even as DOT and TPB looks for less expensive tests.
Romulo Puyat said the DOT and TPB continue to work hand-in-hand with tourism industry stakeholders, local governments and other national government agencies to facilitate the reopening of tourist destinations that have put in place safety and health protocols.
“I encourage our kababayans to book their travels now, and hope that this initiative will break the barrier for our domestic tourists to actually make plans, especially in this Christmas season.”
For his part, PGH Director Gerardo D. Legaspi said, the hospital grants results in 24 hours for their standard RT-PCR testing. “So if you take the test at 2 p.m. today, you will get the result before 2 p.m. the following day.”
He added, the hospital also has a drive-through testing service at P3,800 per person.
To avail of the subsidy, a tourist must first register at https://bit.ly/3qZBkcM five days before the scheduled departure date, and submit a copy of a valid government-issued ID, a copy of a confirmed accommodation booking and proof of transportation ticket for the appropriate mode of travel.
Tourists with approved applications will receive an e-mail from PGH to access the online Client Investigation Form: https://cif.pgh.gov.ph and be notified of their swab test schedule. As PGH can only accommodate to conduct 100 RT-PCR tests per day, applications will be attended to on a first-come, first-served basis.
Meanwhile, Veloso said pooled testing, where one family member is swabbed and tested for the Covid virus, “is still for DOH approval.” But he said PGH is targeting the cost of the pooled testing at “P500-P1000 per patient.” Under this scheme, it is assumed the entire family that is traveling all live in the same home, such that not everyone has to be individually swabbed or tested.
(This article, written by MA. STELLA F. ARNALDO, was first published in the Business Mirror on December 17, 2020)