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Global shortage of reagents affects PH's surveillance of new COVID-19 variants

The Department of Health (DOH) said on Monday, February 1, that global shortage of reagents needed for genome sequencing has affected the country's surveillance of the new COVID-19 variants.

In a virtual press briefing Monday morning, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the Philippine Genome Center's (PGC) operations that entail processing of 750 samples per week was stopped due to lack of reagents or the substance needed for the process.

"Last week, the reagents that were supposed to be delivered was kind of delayed that's why we have this stoppage of this capacity because we don't have enough reagents," Vergeire explained.

The health official said that the workaround they came up with was processing only 48 samples per batch using smaller machines.

Genomic sequencing is the process of analyzing the virus sample taken from a diagnosed patient and comparing it with other cases to see whether those who tested positive for COVID-19 have the new variant.

"Global shortage has affected the process that we have. What we’re going to do right now is to have advance procurement," Vergeire said.

She said that they are expecting the arrival of the reagents this week. And because testing from their previous procurement is also happening this week, the PGC is expecting to return to normal operations.

She added that instead of procuring two months' worth of supplies, the government will now buy supplies good for 6 months.

The country is procuring reagents from Singapore and the United States. Vergeire did not provide the name of the companies providing the reagents.

According to Vergeire, they have already discussed with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) providing for funds in the 2021 budget for genome sequencing. This was excluded in the signed national budget.

"It's really not included in the 2021 budget but we already submitted our proposal to the DBM and this included the one-year supply of reagents and testing kits and other logistical requirements of the Philippine Genome Center, University of the Philippines National Health Institutes, and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. So we are insured and we can sustain the genome sequencing for this year," she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Vergeire said they are proposing P362 million for this purpose. The DBM assured them it would source the funds.

The detection of the more infectious United Kingdom (UK) variant of COVID-19 has pushed countries, including the Philippines, to tighten borders anew as a precautionary measure.

The country has so far recorded 17 cases of the UK variant. – Rappler.com

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.

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