A picture taken on December 2, 2020, shows the GeneXpert testing machine at the Paris’CheckPoint prevention and screening center in Paris. – The center offers a sexual health service for both HIV-positive and HIV-negative people. (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

MANILA, Philippines —  Some 700 COVID-19 testing machines have remained unused because of bureaucratic red tape, Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor said Sunday.

Defensor was referring to GeneXpert testing machines donated by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria based in Geneva to the Department of Health (DOH).

“Many of the GeneXpert units are already installed in the TB diagnostic laboratories of public hospitals, and they can also be used for COVID-19 testing,” Defensor said.

“The problem, as usual, is bureaucratic red tape, as if we are not in the middle of a public health emergency,” he added.

Defensor said that while the World Health Organization (WHO) has already said that existing TB laboratories may also function or double as COVID-19 testing sites, the DOH’s Health Facilities and Services Licensing Bureau is still saying they must undergo separate licensing for coronavirus screening.

“The DOH should harness all our GeneXpert machines to help put a downward pressure on the elevated cost of COVID-19 testing services offered by private laboratories,” Defensor said.

Defensor suggested that the GeneXpert machines be used to help the DOH in multiplying COVID-19 tests conducted instead of getting another P5.1 billion for “COVID-19 Laboratory Network Commodities” in the 2022 national budget.

“If the DOH will simply mobilize all our GeneXpert units for COVID-19 testing, then there may be no need for the government to buy additional RT-PCR machines,” Defensor said.

“All that the DOH has to do is procure the cartridge-based Xpert Xpress SARS-Cov-2 test kits for use in the GeneXpert machines,” Defensor pointed out.

At present, Defensor said the country has only 287 licensed public and private COVID-19 testing laboratories – 118 in Metro Manila, 80 in the rest of Luzon, 43 in the Visayas, and 46 in Mindanao.

The automated GeneXpert units, according to Defensor, are capable of detecting the COVID-19 virus in 45 minutes and can easily triple to almost 1,000 of the country’s COVID-19 testing laboratories.


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