Support for study on saliva for COVID-19 detection sought

(The Philippine Star) – October 21, 2020 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion is eyeing support for a study on the use of saliva specimens for COVID-19 test.

“If that research shows that saliva is as sensitive or even more sensitive than swab testing, then that would be another game-changer, because we would not need an (RT-PCR) extraction machine,” Concepcion said at a briefing at the launch of Project ARK and Mandaluyong Pooled Testing sponsored by BDO Foundation.

A conventional nasopharyngeal swab may cause discomfort to individuals and pose a slight risk to healthcare workers administering the test. Concepcion suggests that using the less invasive saliva specimen can help overcome the reluctance of most Filipinos to get tested. It also has the potential to reduce the cost of RT-PCR tests since it eliminates swabbing altogether.

There are ongoing clinical studies exploring the viability of saliva samples as a low-cost alternative to conventional swab-based molecular tests.

“The direction is to make testing faster, cheaper and more convenient to people. Whatever innovation is coming out, we are not closing the doors…These are good signs that we are really moving for innovation, for speed. That is the only way that we can open the economy safely,” Concepcion said.

He also voiced support for testing innovations from other countries that can help detect community-level infection and bring down the cost of testing. He added that they are working closely with the Department of Health and the Department of Science and Technology to validate the viability of other testing methods.

The official launch of Go Negosyo pooled PCR testing in Mandaluyong followed Makati’s implementation of pooled testing methodology on selected sample of residents.

“The people of Mandaluyong are truly honored and grateful to be part of Go Negosyo pooled PCR testing. Indeed, this is a game changing innovation,” said Mandaluyong Mayor Menchie Abalos. “The PCR pooled testing initiative is a private sector-led effort that is anchored on the combined effort of the government and businesses to make massive testing possible at the community level… This is a big help for Metro Manila mayors,” Abalos said.

“On behalf of BDO Foundation, I would like to express my gratitude and honor on being part of this initiative. I would like to thank Go Negosyo and Project ARK for taking the leadership in this testing initiative to allow the economy to gradually open. I think this is a very important and very critical initiative for us to help our small and medium sized business partners,” said Nestor Tan, president of BDO Unibank.

Also at the virtual briefing were Tessie Sy-Coson, BDO Unibank chair; Mario Deriquito, BDO Foundation president; Rep. Janette Garin, ARK-PCR private implementor; Dr. Robert Padua, president of the Philippine Society of Pathologists; Dr. Raymund Lo of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center and Josephine Romero, Project ARK lead.

The use of saliva specimen for COVID-19 test is also being pushed by Sen. Bong Go.

“Have you conducted studies on saliva-based testing that is used in other countries which may be cheaper, less invasive and safer for our health care workers?” Go asked health officials at a hearing on Monday of the committee on health, which he chairs.

“This saliva-based testing may help to restart our tourism industry which was severely affected by this pandemic,” he added.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III responded, saying that saliva testing is still being studied by the Health Technology Assessment Council, an independent body created under the Universal Health Care Act.

“I have been pushing for its outcome, on what will be the recommendation of the HTAC to the DOH and PhilHealth,” Duque said.

“This has been going on for the last two to three weeks and we probably need a little more time before a final recommendation can be submitted for approval by DOH and PhilHealth,” he said.

Duque said that saliva-based testing needs thorough assessment and studies to ensure its accuracy.

“We cannot sacrifice, we can’t rush it and sacrifice the accuracy and sensitivity and specificity of the test modality,” Duque said.

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