By: Jun Nucum
Donation turnover ceremony (left to right): Moderator Odette Keeley; Sonia Delen; PGH Director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi (in laptop screen grab); Apl.de.ap; Yobie Benjamin; UP President Danilo Concepcion and UPAASF President Liza Gino show testing kit samples that would be turned over to UP-PGH. INQUIRER/Jun Nucum
SAN FRANCISCO – Alumni and friends of the University of the Philippines turned over hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 test kits worth almost $3 million to UP-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) to help fight the prevailing pandemic.
The ceremonial turnover was held at a hotel in Burlingame where a holiday party was being held by the UP Alumni Association-of San Francisco (UPAASF) and Friends of the UP Foundation in America.
The Apl.de.ap Foundation Inc. revealed that entrepreneur and UP Institute of Mass Communication alumnus Yobie Benjamin was the principal donor, who with Dr. Larry Jia’s Zymo Research Corporation, gave access to 227,722 units of Zymo Research DNA/RNA Shield™ Saliva Collection Testing Kits worth $2.85 million.
Explaining how the testing kits donation project came about were UPAASF President Liza Gino, past president and lead project coordinator Sonia Delen, philanthropist and multitalented performer Apl.de.ap of world-renowned music group Black Eyed Peas, and Yobi Benjamin.
UP President Danilo Concepcion flew to San Francisco to accept the donation. UP-PGH Director Dr. Gerardo Gap Legaspi who participated in the turnover ceremony via Zoom.
The DNA/RNA Shield™ Saliva Collection Testing Kits are ideal for the Philippines as they do not require refrigeration, are compatible with the current UP-PGH collection/analysis machines, and provide an alternative method to nasal testing.
The kits give the public, especially seniors and students, greater access to free COVID-19 testing, which is essential in helping slow the spread of the virus through early detection.
“Yobie Benjamin and I have been with the Apl.de ap Foundation since 2013-14. Even at the start of the pandemic, Benjamin has always been in forefront of finding and innovating to help combat the pandemic,” Delen recalled.
“This is part of the efforts of Iskos and Iskas ng Bayan here in America in helping our kababayan back home. UP alumni in the U.S. are always in support of their alma mater’s academic excellence for our young students and the UP-PGH.”
UP students and campus community members will gain access to the test kits and hopefully enable the speedy return of in-person face-to-face learning. Also benefitting is the state-owned UP-PGH designated as the national hospital for COVID-19.
“I was a product of someone else’s generosity, so it is always important for me to pay it forward,” said Apl.de.ap whose real name is Allan Pineda Lindo, born in Sapang Bato, Angeles City, Pampanga.
“When I heard of this mission from Yobie Benjamin, I was given the opportunity to give back and so we did,” recalled Apl.de.ap. “We are so lucky to have access to vaccines and test kits that are unfortunately lacking in the Philippines.”
Benjamin confirmed that he has been working on the COVID-19 crisis since January 2020 and among the first recipients of his donation was Wuhan, China. He said he had donated the kits invented by Dr. Larry Zia donated to California, Israel and Costa Rica.
“What makes this test kit different is that it does need to be kept in cold storage, it is spillage/leak-proof to avoid spread of virus particles even in the laboratories, and that its easier and more simple as it only requires spit of saliva unlike a nasal swab which is invasive,” Benjamin explained.
Asked how soon the test kits can get to the Philippines, Benjamin confided that they are seeking the help of the Philippine Consulate to facilitate the transport of the supplies the total weight of which is nine tons.
UP President Danilo Concepcion thanked UP alumni and other supporters in the U.S. for the generosity. Healso extolled UP-PGH health workers, doctors, nurses, medical technicians and staff “who have been nothing less than heroic.”
“Since the pandemic they have endured being overworked, mental and physical exhaustion, isolation from loved ones, and the risk of getting the disease in order to care for their patients since the start of the pandemic,” proudly stated Concepcion.
“The test kits may help check the spread of disease, make the process of admission faster and efficient, let our scientists collect much more accurate data on the progress of the pandemic in our country.”.
Dr. Legaspi echoed Concepcion, saying the donation is “truly very timely big Christmas gift for us.” “We intend to use these for the thousands of students in different UP campuses. The donation will complement the utility of the RT/PCR test we have now.”