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RITM urges ‘utmost diligence’ in setting up coronavirus testing centers

Bonz Magsambol
RITM urges ‘utmost diligence’ in setting up coronavirus testing centers
'Not all laboratories can be COVID-19 testing centers,' says RITM Director Celia Carlos amid offers from local governments and private laboratories to set up their own testing centers

MANILA, Philippines – The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) on Thursday, March 26, urged local government units and private laboratories to “exercise utmost diligence” in setting up coronavirus testing centers.

In a statement sent to media, RITM Director Celia Carlos said that they “appreciate all parties who expressed their intention to establish their own COVID-19 testing centers.”

However, Carlos noted that “we should remain meticulous in observing good laboratory practices and biosafety protocols recommended by the World Health Organization. Not all laboratories can be COVID-19 testing centers.”

RITM is the health department’s research arm based in Muntinlupa.

On Thursday, the Department of Health (DOH) disapproved Marikina City’s testing center because it didn’t meet biosafety level 2 requirements. 

According to the DOH, the testing facility should be located outside of the Marikina City health office “so that cross-infection is minimized and less foot traffic will be observed for the protection of your staff and constituents as a whole.”

Must-haves

RITM said that testing laboratories “must be capable of performing molecular diagnostics in terms of infrastructure, personnel, apparatus, and quality assurance.”

RITM listed down 4 must-haves for a facility to be accredited. 

1. Laboratory facility

For a facility to be a Biosafety Laboratory 2, it should have at least 3 rooms:

  • The Pre-PCR (polymerase chain reaction) room for the inactivation and RNA extraction
  • The Reagent preparation room where the mixing of enzymes, primers, and probes (collectively known as COVID-19 testing kit) is performed;
  • The PCR room where the real-time PCR machines are permanently stored. It must be a vibration-free and dust-free room with access strictly limited to trained personnel.

2. Personnel competence

According to RITM, the personnel who will perform the procedure must be a graduate of any 4-year science course and have training and skills on PCR testing and biosafety practices. Biochemical engineers should also be available inside the laboratory to support operations.

3. Quality assurance

The laboratory must have quality assurance protocols that ensure accurate and reliable results.

4. Equipment requirements and maintenance

  • For Pre-PCR room: Biosafety cabinets, micro-centrifuge, biomedical freezers, vortex mixers, pipettors, and consumables (test tubes, pipette tips, etc).
  • For Reagent preparation room: PCR cabinets, refrigerator for storage of reagents, vortex mixers, pipettors, and consumables (test tubes, pipette tips, etc).
  • For PCR room: Real-time PCR machines, plate mixers, and other consumables (PCR plates, and peelers). 

“The virus we look for in all samples we receive is highly contagious, hence, COVID-19 testing is done in laboratories with complex systems and strict biosafety measures,” Carlos added. 

To date, the Philippines has 5 laboratories capable of performing COVID-19 tests:

  • RITM in Muntinlupa City
  • San Lazaro Hospital in Manila
  • Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center in Baguio City
  • Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City
  • Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City

Currently, the Philippines has the capacity to conduct 950 to 1,000 tests per day, with the bulk coming from the RITM which can conduct an average of 600 tests per day.

As of Thursday, the country has 707 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 45 deaths and 28 recoveries. – Rappler.com 

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.