Zamboanga Del Sur

Health office fire slows down COVID-19 tests in Zamboanga del Sur

Frencie Carreon
Authorities have begun investigating the incident and assessing the damage caused by the fire

COVID-19 testing has slowed down in Pagadian City and the rest of Zamboanga del Sur following the October 31 fire that damaged laboratory equipment and wasted some 148,000 doses of the vaccine against the deadly virus.

The fire disrupted operations of the Philippine Red Cross in Pagadian and affected its capability to subject specimens to reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Bureau of Fire Protection sent a team of investigators to look into the fire that broke out in one of the buildings of the government-owned Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center (ZSMC).

The DILG-BFP investigation and assessment of the damage started on Monday, November 8.

The fire destroyed facilities in the building that housed the offices of the Red Cross, the Integrated Provincial Health Office, and the Department of Health. 

Local Red Cross chapter administrator Luther Villaflores said on Monday, November 8, that he was hoping they could resume normal operations next week, “especially for the RT-PCR tests for COVID-19, which is most urgent.”

He said that for now, the local Red Cross can only release bags of blood for needy patients, and accept and process blood donations.

Pagadian City and Zamboanga del Sur have depended on the Red Cross and ZSMC laboratories to give COVID-19 tests. 

With the Red Cross is unable to conduct RT-PCR tests, the ZSMC has found its testing laboratory capacity stretched.

But even then, Villaflores said, the operations of the Red Cross blood bank in Pagadian have been slowed down.

He said they were waiting for investigators to complete their probe and assess the damage inflicted by the fire.

Villaflores said the fire scene was still be off-limits to non-investigators, so they have yet to determine which of the equipment were damaged and which can still be used.

If it’s any consolation, Red Cross personnel were able to secure 158 bags of processed blood from the storage refrigerator of the blood bank.

Villaflores said these were immediately sent to the Pagadian City Medical Center, Aisah Medical Center, Cabahug Hospital, Hofileña Hospital, Blancia Hospital in Molave town, and the ZSMC for storage.

He said only four bags of processed blood were wasted.

The Red Cross also continued receiving blood donations during a blood-letting activity on Saturday, November 6, but sent it to Zamboanga City for examination and processing.

PRC secretary-general Elizabeth Zaballa said the PRC would also send aid to the local Red Cross chapter so it could fix the damage in its facilities, including its electrical wiring.

In the meantime, Zaballa said, the provincial government has agreed to allow the Red Cross chapter to hold office and set up a storage facility at the capitol.

The International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) has also pledged to send help. –

Frencie Carreon is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.