by: Nathan Dela Torre || Photo Credit: CNN
In March of 2020, the Philippines reported its first COVID-19 case, resulting in the government imposing the first of many community quarantines. With more COVID-19 cases being reported every day, the government has been tasked to strengthen its COVID-19 response, including the push for mass testing.
Yet, during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing held on September 21, 2021, it was confirmed by the Department of Health (DOH) that 371,794 COVID-19 tests from nearly 8,000 test kits had expired. The Committee had purchased these kits, amounting to P550 million, along with the Procurement Service – Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).
“[…] In the middle of a situation where we were not testing enough… para tayong nagsusunog ng pera sa gitna ng napakaraming namamatay,” stated Sen. Francis “Kiko” Panglinan.
(In the middle of a situation where we were not testing enough… it’s as if we’re burning cash in the midst of so much death.)
These BGI real-time Fluorescent RT-PCR test kits were manufactured on April 5, 2020, with an expiry date of October 5, 2020, and delivered from May 2-4, 2020, with a two-month shelf-life. This would mean that they had a six-month shelf-life, in comparison to the original specifications that the DOH provided, which stated that the kits would have 24 to 36 months before their expiry dates.
In the same meeting, Pangilinan also pointed out that the Department of Health should have bargained for a lower price instead of paying fully for the kits. According to him, the Department of Health could have gotten a 25 percent discount for the near-expiry test kits, given that it is a practice in the industry that you can get a discount when the product is close to its expiration.
On September 24, however, another issue was brought up at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing. One of the 14 tranches of 2,000 A*STAR Fortitude kits, worth P688 million, was bought at double markup even if it only had two months remaining shelf-life.
This was confirmed by Mervin Ian Tanquintic, an inspector from PS-DBM. “During this inspection, Your Honor; it was a joint inspection by the PS-DBM and the DOH. Because of the need of the item, per DOH, it was acceptable even if they had a short shelf life,” said Tanquintic [in response to Sen. Kiko Pangilinan].
More than 300,000 Filipinos could have been tested for COVID-19 if we were able to manage the COVID-19 test kits effectively. Moreover, the government should effectively manage the usage of these kits to avoid wasting funds. And finally, as we approach the second year of the pandemic, this setback pushes us further from achieving the main goal— going back to normal.