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Nearly 8,000 Expired Test Kits Cost Gov't P550 Million: Senator

Senate continues probe on pandemic funds.
by Erwin Colcol
Sep 21, 2021
Photo/s: Pixabay

As much as P550 million in public funds were potentially wasted after nearly 8,000 COVID-19 test kits that the government procured expired due to short shelf life, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said on Tuesday.

During the continuation of the Senate blue ribbon hearing on the use of pandemic funds, the Department of Health confirmed that 7,925 of the test kits it procured had expired.

"There were expired kits," said Health Assistant Secretary Nelson Santiago. "Based on my record, it's [able to do] 371,794 tests."

The DOH made the confirmation after Pangilinan presented a letter from the department addressed to then-PS-DBM head Usec. Lloyd Christopher Lao requesting to reschedule the delivery of testing kits from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. as the test kits that were delivered "expired."

Pharmally is being investigated by the Senate after it bagged over P8 billion in government contracts to provide medical supplies last year despite having only P625,000 paid-up capital.

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With Pharmally's pricing of P69,500 per machine, Pangilinan estimated that the government wasted P550 million.

"That gives us the gravity, the waste, the incompetence, the corruption that we are facing,” he said.

Pangilinan even said that the DOH violated its own technical specifications when it accepted Pharmally's testing kits that were due to expire after six months. The department specified that the test kits should have a shelf life of 24 to 36 months.

Citing industry insiders, Pangilinan added that test kits that are expiring in six months would have a discount of up to 25%, yet the DOH paid for the near-expiring test kits "in full." The discount could have saved the government P1.25 billion, he added.

"That is overpriced. Not just overpriced, that is also using equipment that is substandard or at least lacking in the necessary shelf life for us to be able to effectively deal with COVID [and] avoid deaths and sickness," the senator said.

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In response, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the manufacturers of the test kits indicated an actual shelf life of six months only as they could not determine its stability at that time.

"Hindi pa nila masabi yung stability nito, and these test kits were only developed in the early months of 2020. There was no stability and performance data that these kits would be stored and used for longer periods of six to 12 months," he said.

Duque added that their requirement of a 12 to 24-month expiry period was made before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Bago kasi itong virus na ito, and yung gumagawa ng test kits had to rely on evolving information as to the stability of the test kits," he said.

The Commission on Audit earlier flagged the DOH over "deficiencies" in its management of P67 billion in COVID-19 funds, which state auditors said contributed to the challenges encountered by the department during the pandemic.

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