4 more Philippine laboratories may soon test samples for coronavirus – DOH

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the Philippine government is working to have 4 more laboratories across the country accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO) as official testing centers for the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

"We are now expanding our testing capacity. We have 5 sub-national laboratories that are up for accreditation by RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine). These are one in Visayas, one in Mindanao, one in Northern Luzon, and another one in Metro Manila. So we will have 5," Duque said in a press conference on Wednesday, March 4.

He said specialists from the WHO are currently in the country to help set up the capacities of the following hospitals so they will soon be ready to test 2019-nCoV samples:

  • Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City
  • Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City
  • Baguio General Hospital in Baguio City
  • Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City

The RITM – the health department's research arm – is the Philippines' sole laboratory accredited by the WHO that can test 2019-nCoV samples. But if all goes well, Duque hopes the 4 other laboratories would also get accredited within a month or two.

"Mayroong timeline 'yan. In fact sabi sa akin parang 8 weeks. Pero sabi ko baka puwedeng 4 weeks lang. Kasi 'yung 8 weeks parang ang tagal kako, so 4 weeks. So susubukan," the DOH chief said.

(We have a timeline for that. In fact I was told the process will take about 8 weeks. But I said perhaps we can do it in just 4 weeks because 8 weeks just seem too long. So we'll try.)

Currently, the RITM is running tests with primers from a referral laboratory in Japan, of which it has a limited supply.

Duque explained the machine used in this testing method tends to yield results between 24 to 48 hours – a longer process compared to the rapid diagnostic testing (RDT) kits used by countries like South Korea to identify 2019-nCoV cases.

He then addressed criticisms hurled at the Department of Health for not testing a larger part of the population for possible infection.

In comparison, South Korea – where a total of 5,621 people have caught the 2019-nCoV – has been testing its residents by the thousands every day, a feat the Philippines just isn't capable of doing for now.

Duque, however, is unfazed, arguing the DOH would rather stick to a WHO-accredited process that will not yield "false negative" results.

The DOH chief said he had even talked to the ambassadors of South Korea and Japan to ask if their RDTs have already been vetted by the WHO. (READ: Test kits for novel coronavirus need WHO validation before use – DOH)

"Because the last thing I want to have is a rapid diagnostic test where it might produce false negatives. Nakakatakot 'yon! I'll say negative ka (That's scary! I'll say you tested negative), then I'll let you go out, then you're really positive…. I'm not into just using RDT that has not been vetted by a third party, a credible third party," Duque said.

As of Wednesday, the Philippines has recorded no local transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. A total of 39 persons under investigation are still admitted to hospitals, while the other 620 have already been discharged.

Only 3 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV have been recorded in the Philippines, all of whom were Chinese nationals who traveled from Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. One died, but the other two recovered from the disease.

Worldwide, the death toll due to the coronavirus stood at over 3,200 as of Wednesday, while over 93,000 people were infected across 81 countries. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

image