By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
A group of microbiologists and researchers from the University of the Philippines-Diliman (UPD) has offered their expertise and resources to complement the efforts of the Department of Health for COVID-19 testing across the country.
“As scientists and researchers, we would like to offer our help to our healthcare workers by contributing our expertise and resources to expand our testing capacity in the country. We can complement the efforts of the DOH to set up extension labs for COVID-19 testing across the whole nation,” they said.
They asked DOH to secure their supply of testing kits and other equipment, including to waive or expedite regulatory and accreditation requirements; mobilize and equip their existing pool of scientists and scientific resources to augment and build on current testing capacity; and institute expanded and decentralized testing immediately.
The scientists and researchers emphasized the need to build the country’s capacity to test for COVID-19 to give a better picture of the extent of the infection and provide a disease response accordingly.
While it recognized the government’s implementation of widespread measures, such as social distancing and community quarantine which are considered important mitigation strategies to curb the spread of the virus, the group emphasized the need to have containment strategies facilitated by widespread testing.
“Not only is increased testing a crucial public health measure; we can curb collective anxiety brought about by the fact that we are blindly fighting an unseen enemy, and affirm the right of all Filipinos to be treated equitably in access to proper and responsive diagnosis and healthcare,” the UP scientists and researchers said.
A petition led by the UP microbiologists and researchers was signed by 1,184 individuals and 336 organizations as of Friday.
Testing capacity in the country is currently limited to six hospitals, namely Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, Lung Center of the Philippines, and San Lazaro Hospital in Metro Manila; Baguio General Hospital Medical Center in Baguio City; Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City; and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.
“This is not enough for our archipelagic country of more than 110 million Filipinos,” they pointed out. “We need to increase our national testing capacity to facilitate decentralized, expanded testing across the Philippines.”
They noted three major components to COVID-19 testing that need to be addressed: ensuring sufficient supply of testing kits; tapping of available equipment and facilities that can be utilized for coronavirus testing; and enhancing the number of trained personnel to carry out testing.
“While it may not be logistically feasible to test every single Filipino, expanding our testing capacity will still aid our response to the public health situation. We believe that if the DOH facilitates coordination between local hospitals and research institutions, we can quickly increase our testing capacity and help Filipinos combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said.