MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) will be issuing updated protocols on the use of rapid test kits in the Philippines as the government strengthens its fight against coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

“Subject to the requirements and recommendations of the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) pursuant to Republic Act 11223, or the “Universal Health Care Act”, the DOH is hereby directed to issue updated guidelines or protocols on the use of rapid test kits in the Philippines,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a virtual presser on Sunday.

Late last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved five rapid test kits and a more accurate five-minute test from a US manufacturer which can detect Covid-19 infections.

FDA Director General Eric Domingo said the regulator has allowed five rapid test kits to be used to detect Covid-19 infection, but the samples must still undergo a confirmatory test using the machine-based method.

Rapid test kits can provide results within minutes or hours after extracting a blood sample from a patient, which is faster than the 24 to 48-hour time frame needed by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) to determine if a person is Covid-19 positive, based on swab samples from the throat and nose.

However, rapid test kits only detect the presence of antibodies or protein found in the blood that is produced in response to foreign substances while traditional kits are deemed more accurate since they are processed through a real-time polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR machine that can detect the presence of the actual coronavirus.

Nograles, also spokesperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), earlier said the DOH and the FDA were directed to draft the necessary guidelines for the utilization of FDA-approved Covid-19 rapid test kits, including lateral flow assay kits.

He said the DOH and the FDA were also told to rationalize testing protocols and complement the existing capacity of the country to conduct reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction testing.

President Rodrigo Duterte, in February 2019, signed the Universal Health Care Act into law which will automatically enroll all Filipinos under the government’s health insurance program.

Under the legislation, all Filipino citizens, including overseas Filipino workers, will be enrolled into PhilHealth, which will have a coverage expanded to include free consultation fees, laboratory tests and other diagnostic services.

Meanwhile, Nograles also warned against the use of drugs or vaccines with unproven claims, such as the Fabunan Antiviral Injections, as effective treatment for Covid-19.

“Kung hindi po siya approved ng FDA at ng Department of Health ‘wag po tayo mag eksperimento ng mga gamot na hindi naman po natin alam at wala naman po tayong kasiguraduhan sa kaniyang bisa (If it is not approved by the FDA and DOH, let’s not experiment with medicines that we are not familiar with or whose effectivity is not certain),” he said.

The FDA said there are currently no registered drugs or vaccines that are licensed specifically for Covid-19 treatment or prevention. (PNA)