Makati pioneers pooled testing in PH

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Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion joins Makati City Mayor Abby Binay, Project ARK PCR Chief Implementor and Iloilo 1st District Rep. Janette Garin, and a host of private and medical sector representatives for the MOA signing of Makati's pooled testing program. (FILE PHOTO)

Makati City (CNN Philippines, August 5) — The country’s financial center will pioneer pooled coronavirus swab testing in the country this month, the city government said on Wednesday.

The Makati government said it signed a memorandum of agreement with Project ARK of the private sector for the first pooled testing program in the country.

Under the scheme, groups of five to 20 samples will undergo one reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR test, considered by the World Health Organization and the Health department as the “gold standard” in coronavirus testing.

Around 10,000 individuals composed of market vendors, pedicab, jeepney and tricycle drivers, and residents of a community near the Makati Coliseum will be included in the pilot program, said Mayor Abby Binay.

“Hopefully, this will encourage our companies to open up, our employees will be assured that they are not spreading the virus as well,” Binay said.

“A condominium building can have all the residents tested, yung mga businesses, na gustong ipa-test lahat ng empleyado nila, pwede. Kung yung buong village, yung mga private subdivisions na gustong ipa-test sila lahat kasi mura lang naman, they can do it as well,” she added.

According to Project ARK’s Dr. Minguita Padilla, pooled testing will only be done in areas where the prevalence of infection is expected to be low.

“We’re saying less than five percent, because if it’s high, you might as well just do individual testing,” she told CNN Philippines’ The Final Word.

If there is a high infection rate among the group tested, more of the pooled samples would turn out positive and might end up having to be tested individually to identify the positive sample, rendering pooled testing inefficient.

Project ARK chief implementor and Iloilo 1stDistrict Representative Janette Garin said the project will be a model for local governments.

Garin, a former Health secretary, said they are developing a mechanism to reduce PCR test costs if taken by pool. The expense would ₱450 per person in a pool of five, ₱350 in a pool of 10, and ₱250 in a pool of 20, inclusive of ₱150 swabbing fee – much cheaper compared to individual swab tests which cost at least P3,500.

“Pooled testing does not only deal with a drastically reduced price, but it also deals with protecting our healthcare workers, hastening the turnaround time and making our laboratories the windows that can open and guide us where these viruses are,” Garin said.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said the private sector will fund 160,000 pooled tests in Metro Manila.

Pooled testing in two areas in Cebu province – Mandaue City and Cebu City – are also eyed for launch in the near future.

Concepcion said the program is a good example of public-private partnership. “We are making the best out of these two weeks. The challenge is how to co-exist with COVID-19. The objective is to save lives, jobs, and livelihoods. We cannot have a vibrant economy if we cannot control the health situation,” he said.

As of August 4, Makati City has 2,260 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 1,031 infections, 1,097 recoveries, and 132 deaths, according to the city health department.