MANILA - The Department of Health (DOH) said Thursday it does not recommend the use of rapid antibody tests for COVID-19 in local government units (LGUs) for supposedly yielding inaccurate results.
In a virtual forum organized by the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told governors, mayors and local health officials using antibody test for screening, especially locally-stranded individuals (LSIs), was a "waste of resources."
"You don't need to test everybody who comes in to your provinces. What's important is isolation," she said.
If stranded individuals come from a high-risk COVID-19 area, local authorities shall isolate them immediately for 14 days whether they can test them or not, Vergeire said.
Those coming from low-risk areas of coronavirus infection could be checked for symptoms of the disease, she added. Those not exhibiting signs of COVID-19 can return home, provided they comply with minimum health standards.
The health official reiterated that reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, which detects the genetic material of the virus, remains the gold standard in the diagnosis of COVID‐19.
The best time to use RT-PCR test is shortly after the onset of illness for symptomatic patients, and at least 5 to 7 days after exposure for asymptomatic cases, she said.
Meanwhile, the DOH is also using the antigen test, which detects the viral protein which is expressed only when the virus is replicating.
It is best used to identify acute or early infection among low-risk individuals and 1 to 5 days after onset of the symptoms, Vergeire said.
Should local authorities use rapid antibody test, it is best used 14 days or later after the onset of the illness.
"This is not confirmatory, nor is it diagnostic, test but can determine whether a person was recently infected with SARS-CoV-2 but has now developed antibodies against this virus," Vergeire explained.
The health ministry also urged LGUs to submit accurate, complete and timely information that would allow it a more real-time monitoring of the crisis.
As the country continues to grapple with the pandemic, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III promised LGUs it would continue to provide support and guidance in fighting COVID-19.
"The DOH is grateful for the proactive actions of our local chief executives to protect their constituents and for taking on the critical role of building local integrated health systems,” he said.
“As the national technical lead in the arena of health, the DOH commits to making available as much support and guidance as possible, but no one can deny the significant contributions of other agencies of the government, especially the LGUs."
Meanwhile, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe lauded the Philippine government's efforts to improve its pandemic response.
"Don't be discouraged by the fact that you have a lot of cases reported nationally," he said, saying the country has expanded its testing capacity and reinforce its health system to effectively deal with the crisis.
To date, the Philippines has recorded 178,022 coronavirus infections, of which 61,025 are considered active cases. The nationwide caseload includes 2,883 fatalities and 114,114 recoveries.