In the Philippines, besides lockdowns or community quarantines over some areas in the country, the government is also stepping up its efforts to test suspected cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
As of Sunday, February 7, all laboratory tests on the coronavirus are conducted at full scale in 168 facilities in the country:
(The BioPath Clinical Diagnostics-Cebu had been on the list before, but was not listed by DOH in its situation report citing January 9 data.)
The Department of Health (DOH) also reported 50 facilities that have been accredited to conduct RT-PCR tests using GeneXpert:
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 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.
As of Sunday, at least 47 other laboratories – both for RT-PCR tests and Gene Xpert labs – are being prepared to handle tests. Among them, 3 are on Stage 4 of the accreditation process, while 29 are on Stage 3.
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."
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 February 8, there are 538,995 cases of the coronavirus, with 11,231 deaths and 499,772 recoveries. Globally, the number of cases as of February 8 has risen to over 105.8 million. The global death toll stands at more than 2.31 million. – with reports from Mara Cepeda and Bonz Magsambol/Rappler.com