SNLs proficient at diagnosing COVID-19

MANILA CITY—Following their training and proficiency exam at the Department of Health-Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (DOH-RITM), subnational laboratories (SNLs) are fully primed to diagnose COVID-19 through laboratory-based Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing.

DOH-RITM Director Dr. Celia Carlos assured their readiness to ascertain suspected COVID-19 cases during the recently concluded press briefing held in Santa Cruz, Manila. “I am happy to report that all subnational laboratories passed the proficiency exam. They could start diagnosing cases any moment now, if only they had the complete reagents,” she said. DOH-RITM is looking into its available resources, and the possibility of distributing testing materials to NCR laboratories where confirmatory testing is more urgently needed.

The World Health Organization (WHO), on the other hand, remains responsive to RITM requests for more testing kits. 5,000 sets have already been shipped earlier last week, while more kits are expected to arrive this week. As a staunch ally of public health delivery, WHO expressed its commitment to process fresh requests for increased quantities based on the evolving situation on the ground. This is notwithstanding the proactive measures of RITM which has long arranged for the local procurement of kits internationally, “Despite the limiting step of the huge and global demand for said materials, we have worked in multiple ways to enable all capable laboratories to conduct their own testing,” Dr. Carlos added.

DOH Secretary Dr. Francisco Duque is likewise working double time to review several proposals of rapid testing kits, including one that has been developed locally. “Enhanced testing capacity is a prerequisite to the prevention and containment of this disease, hence, we are carefully studying these proposals to ensure that they are accurate and safe for public use,” he said. To date, the proposed kits have yet to be registered under the WHO Emergency Use List. The Health Secretary affirmed that “validation is necessary to guarantee the accuracy of test results.”

With the local transmission of COVID-19 being confirmed by DOH, defining the parameters of the disease cluster became more crucial. Case investigations have long been underway by contacting proximity contexts of PUIs and testing samples under suspicion. “We want to clearly define who is affected, find out if there is transmission beyond the cases we have confirmed, and identify who else might be at risk. Our efforts have all been pointed towards defining the limits and characteristics of this cluster,” said Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Country Representative.

PCR testing of samples is the current gold standard recommended by WHO for confirming the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the coronavirus disease worldwide.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the test kits developed by the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH), further expanding the testing and surveillance capacity for COVID-19.