Rural doctors oppose choice of test kits

Rural doctors oppose choice of test kits

Medics criticise GPO decision to purchase Covid test kits with high false-negative rate

A health worker uses an antigen test kit on a woman in Pathum Thani on July 30. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
A health worker uses an antigen test kit on a woman in Pathum Thani on July 30. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

The battle lines have been drawn between the Rural Doctors Society and the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) over the purchases of 8.5 million Covid-19 antigen test kits that the doctors say could cause problems.

The reliability of the brand chosen by the state agency, the doctors say, has been ”controversial on a global scale”.

The rural doctors’ group, through chairman Dr Supat Hasuwannakit, on Saturday issued a statement demanding that the GPO, Rajavithi Hospital and the Ministry of Public Health take full responsibility if they proceed with the purchases.

The conflict involves a request to buy kits by the National Health Security Office (NHSO), the unit responsible for the country’s universal healthcare programme, a legacy of the late Dr Sanguan Nittayarampong, a former chairman of the Rural Doctors Society.

The budget to buy the kits belongs to the NHSO but it cannot make the purchases itself. Since the military coup in 2014, the NHSO has been required to ask Rajavithi Hospital or the GPO to buy medical supplies on its behalf.

The NHSO allocated 1 billion baht for the kits and asked the GPO to buy them. It had already negotiated a price of 140 baht each for a brand certified by the World Health Organization, which could be delivered very soon. It hoped the GPO would bypass bidding to speed up the process as members view the kits as instrumental in containing the pandemic.

The GPO, however, lowered the NHSO’s specifications by deleting the requirement for WHO certification and called a bid. The winner was Ostland Capital Co Ltd, a Bangkok-based medical equipment distributor that offered kits made by Beijing Lepu Medical Technology at 70 baht each.

Disappointed, the rural doctors claimed the wholesale price for the Chinese kits was only $1 each or less than 35 baht, but price was not everything, they stressed.

“We maintain ATKs are the heart of Covid containment. We should use kits with high quality and accuracy — those that could reduce or eliminate the need for retesting using RT-PCR. This will save lives, time and budget,” read the statement.

Dr Supat also cited controversies around the Lepu kits.

“While the product was endorsed by Thailand’s Food and Drugs Administration and tested by Ramathibodi Hospital on 150 subjects, its reliability is controversial on a global scale.”

The statement cited as an example a study published in Virology Journal on 33,000 people in Pakistan, which found Lepu had a low sensitivity rate, compared to its 90% claim, and a 48% false-negative chance.

Dr Supat also claimed the 70-baht unit price was not cheap since the wholesale price of the product was $1 or less than 35 baht each, while WHO-certified kits distributed by Unicef cost 160 baht apiece.

“If the GPO, the FDA, Rajavithi Hospital and the Public Health Ministry insist on buying Lepu products, we urge them to seal the deal without delay so it becomes a fait accompli. Our network can then test the product in the real world.

“We also urge the four agencies to declare how they will take responsibility in cases of damage so the public knows how to hold them accountable and set the standard for good governance,” read the statement.


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