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GPO puts hold on self-test kits order

BANGKOK: The Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) has ordered the suspension of a plan to purchase 8.5 million sets of antigen test kits (ATKs) following fierce public criticism about their quality.

By Bangkok Post

Friday 13 August 2021, 08:02AM

Photo: Bangkok Post

Photo: Bangkok Post

Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Public Health and chair of GPO’s board, yesterday (Aug 12) said the GPO had been assigned by Rajavithi Hospital to urgently purchase 8.5mn sets of ATKs under the National Health Security Office’s (NHSO) project.

Bidding was held on Tuesday and the winner offered each set for B70, he said. However, some agencies have expressed concern about the quality of the ATKs.

Their comments on the matter were widely shared online, he said.

“To boost confidence, we will suspend the contract, and the GPO and the Food and Drug Administration will check the quality,” Dr Kiattiphum said. “Further progress will be announced to the public.

“We want to ensure the process is done based on transparency, and the competition is done perfectly to receive a quality product at a reasonable price,” he added.

It is unclear how the move will set back the state’s response to COVID, as the self-testing kits were designed as a way to free up resources in the health system.

The Rural Doctors Society yesterday called on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to stop the signing of the agreement for the 8.5mn ATKs with the company that won the bid, noting the product was banned in the United States. Only high-quality ATKs can be relied upon to control the coronavirus outbreak, it said.

“We need a high-quality product as an alternative to RT-PCR tests,” Dr Supat Hasuwankit, chairman of the Rural Doctors Society, said. “If this product fails to provide accurate results, a test result will still need to be confirmed again using RT-PCR - and it is no longer cost-saving.

“We would also appreciate if the GPO reorganises the bidding [process] and conduct a special procurement [initiative] to get a high-quality product,” he said.

The GPO is having problems with the bidding process because it concentrates on the purchase of products at a low price instead of high-quality products, which goes against the purpose of having effective ATKs to stop the outbreak, the Rural Doctors Society said.

Sars-CoV-2 Antigen and Leccurate Antibody Test products by Lepu Medical Technology, the company that won the bid in Thailand, were recalled in the United States on May 28 due to “a high risk of false results when using these tests”, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

The Rural Doctors Society said it wanted Gen Prayut to investigate the case and order the GPO to scrap any procurement agreement with the company.

Quality ATKs available in the market should be recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO), it said.

The GPO on Wednesday said Ostland Capital, a firm that imports Lepu’s antigen test kits into the country, won the bid, noting the state was able to save B400mn on the project.

The NHSO last month approved a budget of B1.014 billion for the purchase of 8.5mn sets of ATKs, expecting to provide the kits to at-risk groups through its networks, including drug stores, free of charge.

Dr Attaporn Limpanyalert, deputy secretary-general of the NHSO, said the office had no choice in the matter because it needs to use products provided by the GPO, noting also that it has no authority to nullify the bidding process.

“We don’t have the authority to buy the product ourselves. That is the reason why the GPO is involved in providing the product for us.

“We previously [suggested] two products recommended by the WHO at a reasonable price of B120 per set,” Dr Attaporn added.

“But the GPO said it had its own process to get ATKs.”

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