In response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, BDO Foundation is supporting a mass testing initiative touted by medical experts as highly effective, cost-efficient, and scientifically sound.
The corporate social responsibility arm of BDO Unibank—in partnership with Go Negosyo under the leadership of Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo Founder Joey Concepcion, the local government of Cebu City led by Mayor Edgardo Labella formally signed a deal to roll out pooled PCR testing.
The joint initiative was officially unveiled in a virtual event witnessed by BDO Unibank and BDO Foundation chairperson Teresita Sy-Coson; BDO Unibank president and CEO and BDO Foundation trustee Nestor V. Tan; BDO Foundation president Mario A. Deriquito; BDO Foundation President Mario Deriquito Lucy Co Dy; Treasurer/Trustee of BDO Foundation Evelyn Salagubang; and Trustee of BDO Foundation, Dr. Jaime Bernadas.
ARK PCR Chief Private Implementor and First District representative Dr. Janette Garin, ARK Project Lead Josephine Romero, Director IV of Department of Health – Central Visayas CHD, Felix Taguiam, President of Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, OPAV Assistant Secretary Jonji Gonzales, Stephen Tan, Hospital Administrator of University of Cebu Medical Center, Dr. Gerardo Aquino Jr., Chief of Hospital at Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, and Candice Gotianuy, President of University of Cebu Medical Center were also present during the virtual MOA signing.
As part of its testing innovations to combat COVID-19, Go Negosyo; the BDO Foundation; and its partners will initiate Pooled PCR Testing in the National Capital Region and the City of Cebu.
Pooled PCR Testing is the result of ongoing innovations in testing strategies, said Concepcion. Although rapid antibody test kits were used heavily in the early stages of the pandemic, he stressed that they served their purpose and created visibility at a time when testing facilities were extremely limited.
“First of all, it’s [rapid test kits] not a mistake,” he said in response to a reporter’s question. “At that point in time, March 15, there was no testing. The private sector had to use what it had at that point in time. [Daily testing] was hardly in the 5000-8000 [range per day]. It was only in June when we ramped it up to about 35,000-40,000 with the help of the Philippine Red Cross. It’s how you use it. Moving forward, we are not locked into any specific test. Each test has its own purpose.”
“What I’m trying to get at is we are not closing the door to innovations that are brought forward by different countries, different scientists who are developing this technology. We will constantly review them and work with DOH and our partners to provide the right guidance,” he added.
Once the DOH gives the go-signal, testing can be piloted late next week. The initial strategy will involve testing 4,000 public market vendors through equipment funded by BDO Foundation. University of Cebu Medical Center and Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center will pilot pooled testing via pools of five while swabbing centers will be set up by DOH 7 and the City of Cebu. Once individuals are confirmed positive, the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas and the city mayor will facilitate their immediate isolation.
“The two elements we have to remember are testing and localized granular lockdown. Massive targeted testing – using all testing strategies at our disposal – and a strategic, granular approach to lockdowns is the best way forward,” said Concepcion.
He highlighted that pooled PCR testing will be a game-changer for the country. “The private sector will fund a pooled PCR testing pilot for 16 cities and one municipality in NCR this month. That represents about P160,000 pooled PCR tests that will be done for this part of the research. We will also bring more private sector to support more cities in NCR. It could speed up testing, increase the capacity, and make it cheaper. Testing will create greater visibility.”
BDO Unibank president and CEO and BDO Foundation trustee Nestor V. Tan shared in the virtual MOA signing that the advocacy of the BDO Foundation has always been in education, livelihood, and health care. And the health care portion of this would be this initiative. “It’s just timely that we have this opportunity and Cebu is the second-most populous city fighting the COVID infection so we felt that this is a good place to have the most impact at this early stage,” he added.
“Cebu City is a hub, a trading center. There is a moving population,” said Mayor Labella. “[This is why] pooled testing, the importance of this cannot be overspecified. That’s why I really welcome this project. Thank you for making Cebu city [part of this] pilot project.”
“Let me express our gratitude for letting us be a part of this initiative. The fight against COVID is not the private sector alone – it is a joint initiative by all of us working in the same direction,” Tan said. “We hope that BDO Foundation, BDO Group, and the Sy family can contribute to this initiative through our donation. We hope that this is the start of many more initiatives like this.”
The preliminary research findings of a study by the Philippine Society of Pathologists Inc., Research Institute of Tropical Medicine and Philippine Children’s Medical Center earlier revealed that pooled testing can be used as a strategy to improve the country’s testing capacity without straining limited resources, cutting turnaround time, and bringing down costs.
“Cebu [can] now attack COVID and this would not be possible without the collaboration between the government, private sector, and LGU,” Garin said. “The direction is to move one step ahead. We cannot just focus on the symptomatic. Those who are asymptomatic can actually spread the virus. For us to protect each other, we have to presume that we are all infected.”
Pooling five individual samples in one test kit will be able to offer 70% savings, speed up turnaround time by 1.08 times, and offer accuracy levels of 98%, although the dilution brings sensitivity rate to 83%. The cost will range from P400-750 per person in the pilot implementation. This represents a significant decrease in cost from a single PCR test, which may cost P4,000 to P8,000.
Pooled RT-PCR testing is the latest corporate citizenship initiative undertaken by BDO Foundation in response to COVID-19. The foundation previously supported the government’s RapidPass System, donating equipment that enabled the quick passage of vehicles of frontliners at checkpoints during the enhanced community quarantine. It backed ReliefAgad, a web application that automated and accelerated the distribution of financial assistance to beneficiaries of the government’s Social Amelioration Program.
BDO Foundation also launched the Peso Donation Drive to raise resources for the purchase of test kits for distribution to underserved communities nationwide.
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