Ilocos Norte hospital is now licensed to operate COVID–19 testing lab

By Freddie Lazaro 

BATAC CITY, Ilocos Norte (June 4, 2020) - - The Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center (MMMH&MC) can now operate a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) independent testing laboratory after the Department of Health (DOH) approved its license to operate.

(With photo, courtesy of the Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center (MMMH&MC- Health Education Promotion Office (HEPO) / MANILA BULLETIN) (Photo courtesy of the Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center (MMMH&MC- Health Education Promotion Office (HEPO) / MANILA BULLETIN)

MMMH&MC Chief, Dr. Maria Lourdes K. Otayza, said that the endeavor was made possible through the joint initiative of the medical institution and provincial government of Ilocos Norte.

“This endeavor is our answer to the nationwide demand for increased COVID-19 testing resulted in the effort to develop our biomolecular laboratory capability; and to procure alternative modes of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing if available,” said Otayza.

The hospital went into partnership with the provincial government of Ilocos Norte to procure the necessary equipment and do some renovations to the existing laboratory to ensure biosafety.

The provincial government of Ilocos Norte under the leadership of Governor Matthew Marcos Manotoc graciously donated a PCR machine and other peripherals while the hospital procured counterpart equipment, supplies, biosafety equipment, and secured refresher training for its certified staff.

The MMMH&MC took approximately two months to prepare the laboratory set-up, purchase essential equipment, train its staff, formulate policies aligned with the protocols set by the World Health Organization, Department of Health, and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and organize its management before the License to Operate was finally issued to them on June 2, 2020.

Following the issuance of the license to operate by the DOH through its Health Facilities and Services Regulatory Bureau, the hospital had started to perform rapid PCR tests using the GeneXpert machine, which is also being used for testing tuberculosis PCR and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) viral load.

It turned out that the alternative GeneXpert technology got accredited before the PCR.

Particularly, the Department of Pathology and Laboratories, Molecular Biology Section of said hospital received its License to Operate issued by the Department of Health - Health Facilities and Services Regulatory Bureau after successfully completing the rigorous training and passing the competency assessment for COVID-19 (Xpert Xpress SARS-COV-2) Testing.

The assessment was conducted by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

Once in full operation, said section will run COVID-19 test from Mondays to Fridays except Thursdays at 8-5pm because the equipment which will be used for COVID-19 (Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2) is also utilized for tuberculosis PCR and HIV viral load.

The turnaround time is 24-48 hours from the time of receipt in the laboratory. Although the GeneXpert can run fewer m tests than the PCR machine, the two technologies will supplement each other if more testing will be done by the province.

Meanwhile, the hospital has set up protocols for priority cases to test based on existing guidelines set by the DOH.

The MMMH&MC is the second DOH retained hospital to be accredited for COVID-19 testing in Region I and the first in the Region to use GeneXpert technology.