Zamboanga Norte blind again in fighting COVID-19

Gualberto Laput
Zamboanga Norte blind again in fighting COVID-19
Residents are worried because there are no coronavirus testing facilities in the province

DIPOLOG CITY, Philippines – With no swab test facility accepting its specimens, the Zamboanga del Norte Inter-Agency Task Force (ZN IATF) is again waging a blind battle against the spread of the coronavirus while at the same time being accused of double standard.

“That’s true, our specimens were frozen or put on hold because (swab test facilities we sought) ran out of reagents. And the RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Manila) refused to receive our specimens because of their huge backlog,” said Dr Esmeralda Nadela, ZN IATF vice chair.

Nadela said she asked the help from the Department of Health’s 9th Regional Office (Zamboanga Peninsula) for Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) or swab tests, “but the best we can do is to wait for the completion of another RT-PCR facility in Zamboanga.”

“We badly need the RT-PCR facility as people are on the verge of panic because until now we cannot yet ascertain where our first COVID 19 case acquired the disease or did he make local transmissions,” Nadela said.

REOPENED. A closed hospital, the Dipolog Medical Center, is reopened to accommodate those being quarantined. Photo by Bert Laput/Rappler

As Zamboanga del Norte was put on general community quarantine in the middle of last March, pulmonologist Dr Philip Limsi said the province was in a blind battle against the pandemic because of lack of RT-PCR testing facilities.

The province later found ways to send swab specimens to RITM and eventually to other testing facilities in the cities of Zamboanga and Davao.

On May 4, a Norwegian with probable heart disease was airlifted from Dipolog City to Manila. The patient was found positive of COVID-19 in a test at St. Luke’s Hospital. However, recent two repeat tests found him clear of COVID-19.

Considering the Norwegian as Zamboanga del Norte’s first case of COVID-19, the ZN IATF went on contact tracing and eventually put on quarantine 82 persons, who were also given Rapid Antibody Based Test.

Although ZN IATF was prompt in announcing that 69 of 82 persons got negative results, the task force did not disclose the status of the 17 others. The swab specimens of the 17 were taken last May 7 for RT-PCR test in Davao.

At a press conference May 13, Nadela finally mentioned there were those who tested positive in the rapid test without specifying how many and who they were.

In contrast, however, the ZN IATF was quick in organizing that May 13 press conference to announce that a 17-day old baby from neighboring Polanco town tested positive in a rapid test.

This prompted Anecito Young, a human rights lawyer and publisher of two weeklies in Dipolog, to say that ZN IATF had a double standard in disseminating information related to COVID-19.

“Sa ako lang, pobre man gud intawon tong bata, unya kadtong mga nag-positive sa rapid tests nga naay contact sa Norwegian naa may prominenteng mga tawo. (In my opinion, it was because the baby was poor while some of those in close contact with the Norwegian and found positive in the rapid tests were prominent people.)” Young explained.

In an interview May 14, Dr. Ruben Arcilla, president of the group of internists in Dipolog, said he talked on a local radio station mainly to explain the difference between rapid testing and RT-PCR.

“Rapid test is not official, highly inaccurate with only 43% sensitivity and it detects antibodies, not COVID-19. The RT-PCR should be our basis for COVID-19, and so far only the Norwegian or Patient 01 is on our records,” Arcilla said.

He explained that when a bacteria or virus called pathogen enters the body, the body develops antibodies to fight it. Rapid test detects antibodies, which is classified into IGM or newly developed and IGG or have already recovered from the disease created by the pathogen.

The rapid test cannot identify what kind of pathogen entered the body, it could be influenza, it could be AIDS or it could be COVID 19. –

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