COVID Fact Check

Feature Story

In these uncertain times, fake and unverified news undermines the government response and puts us all at risk

By Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana

Deepest breath of all. We now have more than a hundred cases in total today. Our government and Department of Health (DOH) are doing the right thing by implementing social distancing. Please cooperate, because this will not work unless we follow instructions.

If we are lucky, this is a TEMPORARY measure that may last a month or longer.

Lots of misinformation going around again. Let’s review:

  1. The reason that government is implementing these measures even though we have fewer cases than most countries is because we can ill-afford a wider epidemic.

There is no concealment of cases, and DOH is reporting even the hospitals where these patients are so that we are aware of possible contacts. Our hospitals can only take so many cases, and we need help to decrease the risk of our healthcare system being overwhelmed.

  1. More tests are on the way.

There are several thousand tests that have been ordered and will arrive anytime now. The World Health Organization (WHO) is helping. The University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) test kit has been given a certificate of exemption by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but it still needs to undergo verification before it can be used for clinical samples. Our own laboratory in the NIH will be helping the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) soon, but we will be using the WHO kits and other previously validated kits until the UP-NIH test kit is ready for use.

  1. There is no truth to the rumor that PGH is offering 500 free tests then 1,200 pesos thereafter.

I spoke with Dr. Raul Destura, the inventor of the kit, and he said there is no such arrangement at this time. They will be using some hospitals to validate including PGH, but during the validation, it will be free and will be accompanied by gene sequencing and other validated tests to ensure accuracy.

  1. The UP-NIH test is also a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test like all the validated tests in the world.

Hospitals will still need a real time (qPCR) machine to run it. It is based on the best features of different validated tests and is a showcase of what Filipinos can do with the right knowledge and support. South Korea and other countries have supported their own diagnostic programs for years and that is why they have so much capability for testing. We need to support our local scientists because that is the only way to ensure we are self-sufficient to combat diseases like this. The cost will also be significantly less because we can use local materials and we don’t have to pay expensive importation fees and royalties.

  1. Countries all over the world are also having issues with testing.

While South Korea has been exceptional in testing, even the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bogged down with testing and they have only done about 1,707 people. We have done more than that number of tests (some of the more than 700 persons under investigation [PUIs] have been tested twice or more) and so we are not incompetent by any means. The test is highly technical and easy to mess up. RITM has not been idle in the four weeks before we saw more cases. More test kits were ordered and more testing capacity and training occurred and is coming on line now.

In these uncertain times, fake and unverified news undermines the government response and puts us all at risk. Please listen only to verified news and do not share unfounded rumors. This will only work if WE make it work. Let us protect our elderly and chronically ill who are at highest risk for dying. Their lives are in our hands.

“Please listen only to verified news and do not share unfounded rumors”

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