DOH says Marikina lab still completing certification, warns premature use may cause ‘undue harm’

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 14 2020 09:31 PM

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday said the COVID-19 testing laboratory in Marikina City is still pending certification, as it sought to assure the city government it was not opposed to the initiative but was only ensuring the safety of residents. 

“Hindi po ang DOH ang nanggigipit sa inyo. Kami po ay kaalyado niyo sa laban na ito,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a televised briefing.

(We are not working against you. We are your allies in this fight.)

Vergeire said the lab, which the DOH earlier rejected and the city government moved to a different building, is still on Stage 3 of a 5-stage process.

She said that while the workflow structure of the laboratory is already 80 to 90 percent complete, its personnel still have to undergo training. 

The soonest schedule for the hands-on training on biosafety and PCR testing by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) is on Monday, she said. That is why they have suggested that the lab personnel take an online course by the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) in the meantime.

The Marikina lab was established in partnership with the UP-NIH. 

Vergeire said the DOH team that visited the laboratory on Tuesday saw that equipment have yet to be installed.

The 5-stage process of COVID-19 laboratories include assessment, validation or on-site assessment by experts, personnel training, proficiency testing or validation by RITM, and full-scale implementation.

Vergeire emphasized the need for biosafety training since lab technicians will handle live virus. 

She pointed out that this is why only facilities with biosafety level 2 are allowed to process COVID-19 testing. The inability to ensure biosafety procedures will not only expose those who are doing the test but also the rest of the Marikina citizens, she added. 

“Naiintindihan namin ang inyong kagustuhan na mapabilis ang proseso ng testing sa inyong lugar ngunit ang hindi pagsunod sa tamang proseso ay magdudulot pa ng undue harm sa inyong mamamayan.,” Vergeire said.

(We understand your wish to expedite the process for testing in your city but not following due process can result in undue harm among your citizens.)

She said Marikina can partner with accredited laboratories in the meantime. This is already being done by cities like Valenzuela and Manila, who partnered with The Medical City and the UP-NIH, respectively. She said other LGUs have similar plans.

On Tuesday, Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said he was opening their COVID-19 testing center even without the approval of the DOH.

Teodoro had earlier complained of the DOH process in approving laboratories for COVID-19 testing. Last month, the health department rejected the local government’s laboratory inside city hall over biosafety concerns. 

The LGU has moved the P3.8-million facility to another building but it complained that the DOH failed to inspect the new location on Monday.

But Vergeire denied claims that the DOH was not coordinating with the local government. 

“Hindi po totoo na hindi naming tinutulungan ang city of Marikina. Tayo po ay nakaantabay sa kanila at nagbibigay po ng technical assistance sa kanila nang simulan pa lang nila ang kanilang application for certification,” Vergeire said.

(It’s not true that we are not helping the city of Marikina. We have been closely monitoring and giving them technical assistance ever since they started their application for certification.)

As of Tuesday, there were 5,223 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines.