Filipinos should be thanking the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) for successfully developing the test kits for the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) just as the world is starting to see a supply shortage amid the spread of the disease to over 100 countries.
The announcement made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that it has approved the UP-NIH-developed test kits, which were also pre-approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), was indeed a very welcome development, especially with local transmission of COVID-19 already happening in the country.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it: we have the money to buy test kits, but there is no supply. Currently, our COVID-19 test kits came from Japan, and there were only 2,000 units available.
Now, the UP-NIH has committed to produce 1,000 units of these test kits every week. Not only that, the locally developed kits were reported to be superior than their Japanese counterparts. According to the FDA, UP-NIH test kits can yield results in just 2 hours, as compared to the 24-hour wait for the Japan-made kits.
Raul Destura, who led the UP scientists in developing the test kits, said these were developed just two weeks after the WHO released the whole genome sequence of the virus.
For those who do not know, UP-NIH was established in 1996 by the UP Board of Regents. It was then declared as a national health research center by the government in 1998. According to its website, the NIH, while considered a unit of the University of the Philippines Manila, has its own Board of Advisers that recommends the general direction, determines priorities and thrusts of the organization, and generates resources in support of the programs and component units. The Board of Advisers is composed of the Department of Health Secretary, Chancellor of UP Manila, Executive Director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), the Executive Director of NIH, and 2 other recognized scholars appointed by the UP Board of Regents.
This makes facilities like the UP-NIH very crucial for the country. This should also make the policymakers realize the importance of providing adequate funding for them. This should also make the private sector more generous in their donations to these research institutes.
Just imagine the situation the country would be in if we could not develop our own COVID-19 test kits; underreporting of cases would surely persist. Not only that, the country would be ill-equipped in the fight against the disease. How would you know who to quarantine and cure if you do not have the test kits to determine who was infected?
Indeed, UP-NIH has saved the day for Filipinos. They should be thanked, congratulated and recognized properly for this.