MANILA - Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Thursday government would look into adding more coronavirus testing centers in Mindanao, with just one currently operational.
In an interview on DZMM, Duque said the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City is the only Mindanao hospital with capability to test for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
"Pinapakuha ko na existing capacity 'yung level 3 hospitals kasi sila 'yung may kakayahan magsagawa ng testing na katulad nito, live virus ito, kailangan 'yung biosafety lab standard ay complied with kasi kung hindi baka magkaroon ng laboratory epidemic, nakakatakot," Duque said.
(I am checking the existing capacity level 3 hospitals because they are the ones equipped to do testing like this, a live virus, they should be compliant with biosafety lab standards because if not, there might be a laboratory epidemic, that's scary.)
Level 3 hospitals are the highest classification of hospitals in terms of laboratory, testing, and treatment facilities.
Duque's statement came in light of the recent arrival of several Filipino repatriates from Malaysia, which raised concerns on the spread of the disease and the challenge to be tested.
The repatriates are now under quarantine on Sibakel Island in Basilan province.
As of Wednesday, Malaysia had 1,796 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the World Health Organization.
In the Philippines, there are now 636 cases of coronavirus and 38 deaths.
"Kailangang mapalawig ang testing facility. Tanungin ko lang ang RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine) kung mayroon na silang nagawang assessment, ano 'yung pinakamalapit na lab na puwede na nilang ma-accredit sa lalong madaling panahon," he said.
(We have to expand our testing facility. I will ask RITM if they have done an assessment, what's the closest lab we can accredited at the soonest possible time.)
Duque however admitted that not all hospitals have PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) machines that are used for testing.
"'Yung PCR machine kumplikadong makina 'yan na siya ang taga-basa ng resulta kung positive o negative. Limang steps 'yung process, hindi basta kung sino laboratoryo magsabing may PCR tayo dito," he said.
(The PCR machine is a complicated machine that reads results whether positive or negative. It's a 5-step process, not just any laboratory can say we have a PCR here.)
The DOH earlier expressed its readiness to assist the city of Marikina in certifying its lab for COVID-19 testing.
But Duque said they cannot just grant the city's lab with a license until it has complied with all the biosafety protocols.
"Hindi naman namin magampanan sa ngayon na bigyan sila ng lisensiya dahil unang-una, nasa city hall yung kanilang laboratory. Pangalawa, 'yung biosafety standard hindi naman pa nasusunod, tutulungan naman kung ano ang kakulangan pero hindi puwedeng dalin sa madalian ang ganitong laboratoryo dahil talagang highly-specialized at 'yung safety standard dapat stringent at strict and implementation," he said.
(We can't give them a license now because first of all, their laboratory is at the city hall. Second, the biosafety standard has not been followed, we will help them whatever they lack for now, but we cannot rush this kind of a laboratory because it is highly specialized and the safety standard should be stringent and implementation should be strict.)
He said a testing facility should be placed in a hospital, consistent with other testing centers in the Philippines. But the Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center that they are eyeing for a lab lacks the space, he said.
"Hindi ko naman sinasabing hindi puwede (city hall), 'yung risk andoon. Mas maganda talaga na 'yung lab nakabukod at maganda rin nasa loob ng ospital," he said.
(I am not saying we can't allow the one at city hall, but the risk is there. It's better for the lab to be in a separate facility or inside a hospital.)
Duque said there are currently 6 decentralized testing centers in the country including RITM and SPMC in Davao City, the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu, the Baguio General Hospital in northern Luzon, the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, and soon at the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City.
He said if the Lung Center could fully comply this week on testing facility requirements, it could be licensed. Duque said there are also four labs in private hospitals: two at St. Luke's, the Makati Medical Center, and The Medical City.
"This week 'yung Lung Center pinipilit ko kung konti lang ang deficiencies ay kanila nang gampanan ang mga puwang at palisensiyahan na. Tapos meron tayong apat na private hospitals St. Luke's hospital dalawa, Makati Medical, the Medical City," he said.