Where are testing centers for coronavirus in PH?
MANILA, Philippines (7th UPDATE) – Governments around the world have responded in various ways to contain the coronavirus outbreak, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared as a pandemic.
In the Philippines, besides a month-long Luzon-wide lockdown or "enhanced community quarantine," the government is also stepping up its efforts to test suspected cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
As of Monday, April 6, all laboratory tests on the coronavirus are conducted at full scale in 10 facilities in the country, with the following estimated daily testing capacity:
- Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), Muntinlupa City – 900 tests
- San Lazaro Hospital, Manila – 60-100 tests
- Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Baguio City – 150 tests
- Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, Cebu City – 240 tests
- Southern Philippines Medical Center, Davao City – 100 tests
- University of the Philippines (UP) National Institutes of Health, Manila – 80 tests
- Lung Center of the Philippines, Quezon City – 100 tests
- Western Visayas Medical Center, Iloilo City – 80 tests
- Bicol Public Health Laboratory, Legazpi City, Albay
- St Luke's Medical Center, Quezon City
The RITM certified these laboratories to screen for COVID-19. All have reached Stage 5 of the accreditation process, which means they have been "certified and allowed to process and test samples at full scale."
RITM is the country's national reference laboratory for infectious and tropical diseases. It is under the Department of Health (DOH).
A person who exhibits virus symptoms or has a travel or exposure history in relation to the virus may proceed to any hospital to be admitted to designated isolation areas, where samples will be taken and brought to the testing center. (READ: When you need to get tested for coronavirus – or not)
The DOH explained that persons under investigation or PUIs will be tested only if they are experiencing severe manifestations of the symptoms. However, elderly people who exhibit symptoms, whether mild or severe, as well as persons with underlying medical conditions will automatically get tested for possible infection.
Before RITM was accredited, samples from the Philippines were sent to the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia.
At least 69 other laboratories are being prepared to handle tests, said the DOH.
As of Monday, 4 facilities have reached Stage 4, where it "may already accept" samples of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. However, it "first needs to test 5 positive samples as confirmed by RITM before proceeding to a full-scale implementation" under Stage 5:
- V. Luna Hospital, Quezon City
- St Luke's Medical Center, Taguig City
- The Medical City, Pasig City
- UP Philippine General Hospital Medical Research Laboratory, Manila
One facility is in Stage 3, which means its personnel "will have to undergo a special 3-day training at RITM":
- Philippine Red Cross, Manila
A total of 44 hospitals are in Stage 1, where these facilities will "conduct self-assessment" of their test capability "using the tools provided by RITM." Meanwhile, 20 hospitals are in Stage 2, where a team from DOH, WHO and RITM will conduct an on-site visit "to check the correctness of their self-assessment."
Separately, Marikina City announced on March 13 that it plans to set up its own testing center to help only in early detection efforts for persons under monitoring, using test kits from a local private biotechnology firm.
However, the DOH on March 24 said the Marikina City government and its partner hospital should "meet strict biosafety requirements" so that the city's COVID-19 testing center would be allowed to operate.
Besides access to testing centers, the availability of testing kits is also important in diagnosing persons under investigation for the coronavirus.
Currently, RITM is running tests with primers sourced from a referral laboratory in Japan, but it has a limited supply. There is also a 24-to-48-hour processing period for the test results.
On March 30, Vergeire said that the RITM can now process "900 to 1,000 samples per day" while the others can process "more than 200 samples per day."
However, she earlier said that for now, the tests will be limited to severe and vulnerable PUIs.
On March 16, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced that rapid test kits from South Korea and China were donated to the country to allow for more tests. These test kits can turn up results within hours.
On March 28, though, the DOH said it had discarded some test kits from China because of its poor accuracy. Then it clarified the next day, March 29, that the test kits they discarded were "donated by a private foundation," while the ones given by the Chinese government "were at par" with test kits provided by the WHO.
To help expand DOH's testing capacities, UP NIH scientists said they have developed a test kit for the coronavirus. Health authorities approved it for mass use on April 3, after weeks of validation and field-testing. The test kits can accommodate up to 120,000 tests and are capable of fast detection of coronavirus in samples taken from patients, with results ready in two hours.
Separately, on March 20, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 4 test kit products for commercial use.
Earlier, the FDA reminded the public to avoid buying home test kits sold online that have no approval from them yet.
The WHO on Tuesday, March 17, called on countries worldwide to test "every suspected case" of COVID-19.
In the Philippines, as of April 6, there are 3,660 cases of the coronavirus, with 163 deaths and 73 recoveries. Globally, the number of cases as of April 7 has risen to over 1.3 million. The global death toll stands at more than 74,000. – with reports from Mara Cepeda and Bonz Magsambol/Rappler.com