DOH admits COVID-19 testing capacity still below 8,000 to 10,000 daily target

Marje Pelayo   •   April 29, 2020   •   259

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday admitted that the country’s testing capacity for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is still below the target.

The Department had planned to expand its mass testing to 8,000 – 10,000 tests daily starting Thursday (April 30).

But, according to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, they may not be able to achieve the target as scheduled.

Mukhang hindi po aabot dito sa walong libo for April 30, though sinusubukan natin dahil ngayon po dumating na ang cartridges natin for GeneXpert [I don’t think we can achieve the 8,000 target for April 30 though we are trying, especially with the arrival of the cartridges for GeneXpert,]” the official said.

The DOH was able to conduct a total of 6,320 tests on Tuesday (April 28) in 19 licensed testing laboratories across the country. 

Vergeire noted the recent scaling down of operations at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) as one reason for the delay in testing of samples which left the processing of results pending for about a week.

The RITM has just resumed full operations on Sunday after more than 30 of its COVID-19 positive medical staff recovered from the disease.

With the use of GeneXpert test kits, the DOH expects the results to be out within 45 minutes which will definitely improve the country’s testing capacity and hopefully achieve its daily target.

“But ngayon po itong ating goal ay pilit na maabot, aabutin [We will try hard to achieve our goal in] the coming days as all the resources had been falling in coming from private side and coming from the government,” Vergeire said.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has added a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kit from Singapore and two brands of rapid antibody test kit from Germany and China among the list of approved test kits that may be used in hospitals across the country.

To date, the country has a total of 33 FDA-approved PCR-based test kits and 24 rapid antibody test kits. 

The DOH reminds the public, however, that these test kits may only be administered by licensed doctors and experts who are also authorized to interpret test results. –MNP (with details from Aiko Miguel)

IATF approves Phl participation in COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials

Maris Federez   •   May 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Upon the recommendation of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) has approved the proposed participation of the Philippines in clinical trials that seek to formulate a potential vaccine against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Based on IATF Resolution No.39 dated May 22, 2020, the task force has also ordered the creation of a sub-technical working group which will be led by the DOST.

The group will be coordinating with the four collaborating organizations composed of the Department of Health (DOH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), and the World Health Organization (WHO) with regard to the said clinical trials.

The IATF has also issued a directive to the FDA to facilitate the processing of necessary permits for the conduct of the clinical trials in the country.

The collaborating organizations for the clinical trials are the Adimmune Corporation, Academia Sinica, Chinese Academy of Science- Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, the Sinopharm – Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, and the Beijing Institute.

Once the clinical trials are undertaken, these will be included in the FDA’s requirements for the registration process for the vaccine and the application for certificate of registration to make the vaccine available in the market.

The Philippines has initially participated in the WHO’s clinical trials, which include the testing of off-label drugs that show potential of being effective against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the IATF has also approved the plans of the DOST to construct research centers for the local vaccine research development.

These include the Virology S&T Institute at the New Clark City in Tarlac and the reactivation of the Pharmaceutical Development Unit of the DOST-Industrial Technology Development Institute. —(from the report of Rosalie Coz) /mbmf

Gov’t targets to increase COVID-19 daily testing capacity to 50,000

Marje Pelayo   •   May 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The national government is planning to further improve the country’s testing capacity for coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to COVID-19 Response Deputy Chief Implementer Vince Dizon. 

Once the country achieves the initial target of 30,000 per day by the end of May, the government may opt to increase its testing capacity to 50,000 per day.

“Thirty thousand tests per day at the end of May. Pagkatapos nito ay kailangan pa natin itaas ito ng 50,000 kada araw (We will then need to increase it further to 50,000 per day),” Dizon said in an interview.

To date, Dizon said, the government is able to achieve around 17,000 tests per day.

This can be attributed to the collaborative efforts of public and private hospitals and laboratories together with the Philippine Red Cross. 

In line with this, Department of Health (DOH) Spokesperson Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire expressed confidence that the targetted daily testing capacity will be achieved with the government’s ‘Test, Trace, Treat’ (T3) program.

At present, DOH has a total of 30 accredited laboratories authorized to administer Reverse Transmission-Polymerase Chain Reaction (TR-PCR) Tests.

PH eyes construction, accreditation of additional 78 COVID-19 testing laboratories nationwide

Marje Pelayo   •   May 5, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The national government is planning for the construction and accreditation of additional laboratories to increase the country’s testing capacity in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

According to Bases Conversion and Development Authority president and deputy chief implementer of the National Policy against COVID-19 Vince Dizon, the national government is eyeing the construction of 78 laboratories nationwide in partnership with the private sector.

To date, only 22 testing centers are operational across the country. 

Specifically, the government targets to accomplish 30,000 COVID-19 tests in a day by May 30, Dizon said. 

Naniniwala po tayo na kung ma-a-activate natin ang laboratories na ito, magkakaroon na po tayo ng capacity to test 30,000 a day [We believe that with the activation of these laboratories, we will be able to increase our testing capacity to 30,000 a day by May 30],” Dizon said.

Currently, the country is able to test an average of 5,000 individuals a day but around 25,000 among repatriated and returning overseas Filipinos alone need immediate swabbing. 

Meanwhile, the government is continuously calling for volunteer medical professionals and students as well as government employees to augment manpower in view of the massive testing. 

The necessary equipment and facilities like testing booths and sufficient personal protective equipment (PPEs) are also being prepared for the additional frontliners.

Nagtawag na po tayo sa ating mga universities para i-heed ang call para sa mga swabbers at iba pang magvo-volunteer para po tulungan tayo sa ating malaking operations sa testing [We called the universities to heed our call for swabbers and other volunteers to help in the operations of mass testing],” Dizon said. –MNP (with details from Rosalie Coz)

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