IN an IATF update on Saturday, April 18, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced that the Department of Health (DOH) has finalized guidelines for the use of rapid antibody test kits.
“Aprubado po ang mga patakaran ng DOH ukol sa paggamit ng rapid antibody test kits,” said Nograles. He will be outlining these guidelines in further detail on Monday.
Unlike reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, which look for the genetic or protein evidence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, antibody test kits look for evidence that the patient has produced antibodies that combat the virus.
In other words, a RT-PCR kit tests if a virus is actually present, while an antibody kit evidence tests for evidence if the virus is (or was) inside your body. Take note, also, that antibodies take time to appear in your bloodstream (up to 5 to 14 days, depending on the antibody type).
Because of this limitation, they are generally regarded as less accurate than standard RT-PCR tests. (For a primer on COVID-19 testing, please tap here.) As recently as March 30, in a circular released by the Department of Health and examined by SPIN Life, the DOH has said that RT-PCR tests are the “gold standard” in testing for COVID-19.
Rapid antibody test kits, the circular said, should only be used as an “adjunct tool”, and cannot be used to definitively diagnose for COVID-19. Furthermore, “no public funds shall be used to pay for any COVID-19 rapid antibody-based test kit.”
However, as their name implies, these kits (as their name suggests) are small, portable, and give speedy results compared to the lab-based RT-PCR tests.
Since the release of that memo, President Duterte himself has called on the DOH to finalize guidelines for the official use of rapid antibody test kits.
“I'm clearing the way, I will ask Secretary Duque to talk to the people in charge, [...] and they can proceed to buy it immediately. As fast as you can really do the procurement at this time," the chief executive said in a press briefing on Monday, April 13.
In today’s IATF update, Nograles also announced that the Philippines has procured GeneXpert test kits. This is also a lab-based RT-PCR test, but with a faster turnaround time compared to previous tests — just 45 minutes, according to Nograles. These kits “could be the first crack in the doorway to wider testing capacity in low- and middle-income countries,” wrote global independent watchdog Health Policy Watch.
The government, said Nograles, would use these three tests — RT-PCR, rapid antibody test kits, and GeneXpert platform RT-PCRs — to conduct more wide-scale tests on the Philippine population.
“Tatlo na po ang gagamitin na tests, para mapabilis ang testing natin,” he said. “Lahat ng mga PUMs o PUIs, gusto natin ma-test na lahat, using those three devices.”