RITM strengthens subnational labs, COVID-19 response

MUNTINLUPA CITY — As the Department of Health-Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (DOH-RITM) strengthens its outbreak response, representatives from subnational laboratories (SNLs) are being trained on the screening of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19. This initiative reinforces disease surveillance and outbreak response with or without community transmission of the coronavirus disease.

All hands are on deck for the possibility of COVID-19 community transmission. We have to be able to urgently identify PUIs using screening tests wherever they may be located, and so the subnational laboratories are being reactivated to augment COVID-19 laboratory support,” says DOH-RITM Director Dr. Celia Carlos, emphasizing the role of the subnational laboratories in the outbreak response.

Community transmission is the local spread of a disease. As the majority of Persons Under Investigation (PUIs) being tested and monitored for COVID-19 have shifted to Filipinos with travel history to affected countries, the Health Department and its annexes are preparing for all odds. To date, there are only five confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the country, and the community transmission of the disease has not been confirmed.

The training equips the SNLs with the skill to perform real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), the molecular diagnostic testing recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for SARS-CoV-2 detection. The SNLs will conduct SARS-CoV-2 screening tests in their respective regional laboratories, expanding the surveillance coverage and detection capacity of DOH. “We have a duty to our country: to prevent community transmission of diseases. The only way to do that is to detect early and to quarantine early,” Dr. Carlos further says.

Currently, there are five subnational laboratories that assist the national reference laboratories in surveillance and outbreak response: the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC); San Lazaro Hospital (SLH); Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP); Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC); and the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC).