By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Thursday pressed the Department of Health (DOH) to fast track the accreditation of hospitals for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing to boost the country’s testing capacity for people at risk.
Gatchalian said he is appalled at the sluggish COVID-19 testing capacity of the DOH, noting the agency has yet to accredit any hospital to carry out more virus testing even after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed that testing kits are now available for commercial use.
The senator pointed out that the FDA itself has said that the newly delivered test kits from South Korea and China are now readily available, but these cannot be fully utilized if the DOH would not capacitate and accredit hospitals to use them.
“Papaano natin mabibigyan ng agarang tulong medikal ang mga taong nanganganib ang kalusugan dahil sa COVID-19 at mapigilan ang mabilis na pagkalat nito kung hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa pinapahintulutan ng DOH ang mga ospital na gamitin ang mga bagong testing kits, (How can we give immediate medical assistance to people whose health are at risk due to COVID-19 and prevent its spread when until now the DOH has not yet accredited the hospitals to use these new testing kits),” Gatchalian lamented.
Gatchalian said the DOH has yet to certify the local laboratory that Marikina City Mayor Marcelino Teodoro had set up.
Teodoro has expressed frustration that up to this time, the city cannot use its Molecular Laboratory and procure test kits as the DOH has yet to certify it.
According to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, all LGUs must first coordinate with the DOH before acquiring, purchasing, or utilizing testing kits within their respective territorial jurisdictions.
In addition to the current 1,300 available test kits and the 2,050 recently delivered from China and South Korea, the DOH is now anticipating additional 120,500 units from different countries, such as China, Korea, and Brunei.
Gatchalian said the UP-National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Philippine Genome Center, and manufacturer The Manila HealthTek Inc. are working to meet the government’s order of 26,000 testing kits developed by the UP NIH.
At less than P1,500 each, these kits are significantly cheaper and cuts waiting time for results from 24 hours to less than two hours, the senator noted.
To date, there are four sub-national laboratories that have been prepared to process COVID-19 testing—San Lazaro Hospital and Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center for Luzon, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center for Visayas, and Southern Philippines Medical Center for Mindanao.
The DOH and the World Health Organization (WHO) are eyeing five (5) private hospitals as possible extension laboratories. These are St. Luke’s Medical Center-Global City, Makati Medical Center, The Medical City, St. Luke’s Medical Center-Quezon City, and Chinese General Hospital.
Three (3) government hospitals are having final arrangements to become COVID-19 referral hospitals or those that can admit patients who contracted the virus. These are the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila, the Jose M. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City, and the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City.
The University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) will also augment government capacity for testing.