'Itago na lang': Health workers' group says rapid antibody tests inaccurate

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 03 2020 09:47 AM | Updated as of Aug 03 2020 12:22 PM

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MANILA — Massive use of rapid antibody tests could be one reason for the increase in coronavirus infections in the Philippines, a group of health professionals warned Monday, adding that the tests are sometimes only 50 percent accurate. 

Dr. Antonio Dans, spokesperson of the Healthcare Professions Alliance Against COVID-19, said widespread use of rapid test kits by local governments and offices as a requirement before workers can return to their jobs could have led to the rise in coronavirus infections. 

"[Ang rapid antibody test] hindi po 'yan accurate. Nagbigay na ng babala ang [World Health Organization]...Kung may 10 tao na may COVID-19, 5 lima hindi niya nahahanap. Nagkakamali siya sa 50 percent," Dans said in an interview on ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo. 

(The rapid antibody test is not accurate. The WHO already gave a warning. If there are 10 people with COVID-19, it fails to find 5 of them. It's wrong 50 percent of the time.)

"Biro niyo, may ubo't sipon at lagnat, tapos gagawan niyo ng antibody test, kalahati nun ay negative e di pauuwiin, papayagang magtrabaho, e di manghahawa. Tingin ng marami sa amin, kaya lumala ng ganito ay dahil sa antibody test na 'yan," he added. 

(Imagine people who have cough, colds and fever, and will be tested using the antibody kit. Half will test negative, will be sent home, allowed to work, infect others. Many of us think the pandemic worsened because of this antibody test.) 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned about the limitations of the rapid antibody test kits, saying the kits only work half the time.

Local doctors associations said they do not recommend the use of rapid antibody tests for COVID-19 to screen employees returning to work. 

In the interview, Dans urged companies and LGUs to stop using the rapid test kits. "Dapat sa ngayon wag na munang gamitin, itago na lang. Gamitin ang swab," he said, referring to the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction-based tests that check if a patient’s sample has the COVID-19 virus.

(For now, we shouldn't use these and just store them. Use swab tests instead.)

Meanwhile, Philippine College of Physicians president Mario Panaligan pegged the false negativity rate of the rapid tests at 30 to 35 percent. 

The test is only recommended for those who developed symptoms 2 weeks after exposure to a COVID-19 patient, he said. 

Panaligan said government programs to bring back to provinces people who were stranded in Metro Manila could have contributed to the spike in COVID-19 cases. 

"Noon, NCR lang. Certainly, when this program started, that also caused a surge in the different areas of the country," he told ANC. 

(Before, the outbreak was only in NCR.)

DOCTORS' RECOMMENDATION 

Dans said the government's decision to place Metro Manila and neighboring provinces back under the second strictest lockdown will be “useless” if the government refuses to talk to frontliners about what went wrong in the country’s pandemic response.

Duterte announced Sunday that Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan would go back to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from Aug. 4 to 18. 

MECQ bans buses, jeepneys, taxis, ride-hailing services, tricycles from plying the roads, and limits the operation of manufacturing plants and other establishments to half of their capacity. 

Medical workers earlier asked President Rodrigo Duterte to reimpose stricter quarantine measures in Metro Manila to give way to a “timeout” in which errors in the coronavirus fight could be addressed.

“Kasi para ho tayo sa isang laro na natatalo at last 2 minutes na. Parami ho nang parami ang kaso,” he told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo. “Usap tayo sino ba ang center, forward, guard dito kasi iyong opensa ba tama, iyong depensa ba tama.” 

(This is because we’re like in a game and we’re losing in the last 2 minutes. The cases continue to increase. Let’s talk who should be the center, forward, guard, and how our offense, defense should be.)

“Useless ho iyan kung hindi rin mag-uusap kung anong naging problema,” he added. 

(That would be useless without talking about what the problems were.)

The government should use the lockdown to address the following 7 issues, said Dans: 

- Shortage of health professionals; 
- Failure in finding coronavirus carries due to inaccurate rapid antibody tests;
- Errors in quarantine protocols;
- Insufficient modes of public transport; 
- Public disobedience of health guidelines;
- Breach of quarantine rules in workplaces; and
- Delays in the distribution of cash aid for displaced workers and the poorest families. 

Higher pay for health workers was not included in these issues, even if some of them have been forced to work 24-hour shifts during the pandemic, noted Dans, who is an internist at the Philippine General Hospital, a COVID-19 referral center. 

“Siyempre importante iyon, pero hindi naman namin hiniling na taasan iyong suweldo. Ang hinihiling po namin, gawan natin ng paraan na hindi ma-overwhelm ang healthcare system, gawan natin ng paraan na ‘pag may nagkakasakit, kaya pa rin naming alagaan," he said.
 
(Of course that is important but we did not ask for our salary to be raised. We are asking for solutions so that our healthcare system will not be overwhelmed, for us to find a way so that we can still take care of the sick.) 

Coronavirus infections in the Philippines on Sunday breached the 100,000-mark. The country could have 150,000 COVID-19 cases by the end of August, an expert from the University of the Philippines warned.