RITM can now run 1,000 tests daily; turnaround time shortened to 48-72 hours

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 30 2020 07:18 PM | Updated as of Mar 31 2020 02:28 AM

MANILA — The Philippines’ national reference laboratory for infectious and tropical diseases said it can now run up to a thousand COVID-19 tests a day.

“We used to do 300 tests a day. Now we expanded. There are more laboratories within RITM (doing the COVID-19 tests). We can now process 900 to 1,000 tests per day,” said Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) Director Celia Carlos in Filipino during a Department of Health briefing.

Because of this and the additional COVID-19 test kits received by the Philippine government, the RITM was able to shorten the turnaround time for the test results.

“It has been 48 to 72 hours in the last few days. This is a big improvement and we hope to sustain this,” Carlos said.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the other accredited laboratories are able to run a total of 200 tests a day.

Before the increase of COVID-19 cases in the country, the normal turnaround time for tests was 24 to 48 hours. However, it reached 5 to 7 days last week as laboratories struggled to keep up with the increasing number of COVID-19 patients under investigation.

As of Monday afternoon, there are 1,546 COVID-19 cases in the country.

VALIDATING DONATED TEST KITS

As the country’s reference laboratory for COVID-19 tests, the RITM also validates test kits donated to the Philippines.

Carlos explained that this starts with the review of literature or studies on the kit. Once it passes the initial review, the kits are then subjected to laboratory validation.

“The new kits are compared to the gold standard - the kits from the World Health Organization,” Carlos explained. 

The new kits, she said, must be able to detect COVID-19 in samples with different levels of the virus. 

If it is able to detect COVID-19 from the sample with the lowest concentration, the test kit is endorsed by the RITM.

ASSESSING LABORATORIES

The RITM is also responsible for assessing the biosafety standards of laboratories intending to run COVID-19 tests.

“After we inspect them, we give a recommendation. We expect the laboratory to comply if they have a deficiency,” Carlos said.

Just last week, the proposed laboratory of the Marikina City government was rejected because it was on the 6th floor of the city hall.

Carlos said the safety features must be complete to avoid contamination.

With around 40 laboratories applying for certification, Vergeire said others that are interested in being assessed may send a letter to the DOH e-mail address: [email protected]