DoH falls short on mass testing target

Credit to Author: John Eric Mendoza| Date: Wed, 29 Apr 2020 16:20:23 +0000

THE Department of Health (DoH) on Wednesday admitted that it would likely miss its target to conduct 8,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April because of “issues,” including the temporary closure of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

FAST SWAB A health worker gets a nasopharyngeal specimen from one of the Taguig City residents who had themselves tested for the coronavirus disease at the drive-thru testing site at the Bonifacio Global City. The testing center is part of the city’s Systematic Mass Approach to Responsible Testing program. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire cited the reduced capacity of the RITM, the country’s national reference laboratory, as a major factor.

“Currently, our average is less than 5,000 tests a day. It seems like we won’t achieve our goal of conducting 8,000 tests by April 30,” Vergeire said in a televised briefing. “So many issues have happened these past weeks especially the one-week shutdown of the RITM.”

RITM scaled down its operations after 40 of its personnel tested positive for the coronavirus disease.

Figures from the Health department indicated that the RITM accounts for around half of the country’s testing capacity. It tested 48,738 of the 95,032 total tests conducted as of this week.

Vergeire said the department might still reach its goal in the coming weeks.

“The resources from the private sector and from the government are pouring in,” she said.

“The test cartridges for the GeneXpert have also arrived,” she added.

The American-made testing cartridge for GeneXpert can yield results for only 45 minutes, faster than the real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test kits, which had a turnaround of around 24 hours.

The GeneXpert machine is usually used to detect tuberculosis, and the 3,000 test cartridges from the United States will give the country a testing capacity to test for SARS-CoV 2 — severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 — the virus that causes the coronavirus disease.

The country has around 300 of the testing machines nationwide, and the test cartridges are undergoing validation before being used for testing.

University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health researcher and founder and chief executive officer of Manila Healthtek, Dr.Raul Destura, said they are aiming to manufacture up to 16,000 RT-PCR test kits daily beginning May 1.

Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, the country had 8,212 cases of the new coronavirus disease. The number of those who recovered from the disease rose to 1,023 while the death toll reached 558.