By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian expressed dismay over the Department of Health’s (DOH) disapproval on Thursday of the laboratory set up by the Marikina City government to address the need for mass testing amid the coronavirus crisis.
In an exchange with the Manila Bulletin over Twitter on Thursday, Gatchalian said he was confused by the DOH’s reason for rejecting the testing center located at the sixth floor of Marikina’s City Health Office.
“This is sad and made me more perplexed. [South] Korea has drive-thru testing centers which are set up in parking lots and in temporary tents. Sa Marikina isang dedicated floor, pero na disapproved pa (Marikina has dedicated a whole floor for it, yet it was disapproved)?? Hindi ko maintindihan (I don’t understand)???” he wrote.
South Korea was one of the countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, but was lauded for its aggressive response to the pandemic through widespread testing, resulting in a low death rate compared to other nations.
Gatchalian, however, said it is “impossible” to do the same in the Philippines at present, even as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of some test kits to locally diagnose COVID-19.
“It impossible to do mass testings now despite FDA’s accreditation of [eight] test kits. And that’s because there is only one processing center in the entire country – that’s RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine). RITM is not designed to do mass testings. We need to accredit more processing facilities,” he said in reaction to an online petition calling for mass testing.
The FDA has approved a total of 15 test kits for commercial use as of March 26.
Gatchalian earlier appealed to the DOH to fast-track its accreditation of hospitals for COVID-19 testing to boost the country’s testing capacity and test more people at risk.
In his virtual press briefing Thursday afternoon, Secretary Francisco Duque said the DOH rejected Marikina’s testing center because “it failed to meet the standards on standards on space and biosafety.”
“Kaya minumungkahi ng DOH na gamitin ang laboratoryo ng Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center or mag-set up ng laboratoryo sa ibang lokasyon,” he said.
(That’s why DOH is suggesting they use the laboratory of Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center instead, or set up a laboratory in a different location.)
“Pwede itong modular and prefab infrastructure lamang. Tutulungan sila ng RITM kung paano magpatayo na isang facility na nakakasunod sa guidelines for biosafety,” Duque added.
(This could be just a modular and prefab infrastructure. The RITM will help them establish a facility that complies with the biosafety guidelines.)