PH genome testing capacity still limited amid presence of COVID-19 variants- DOH

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 08 2021 02:40 PM

MANILA — The country's genome testing capacity is still limited despite the presence of various and more transmissible COVID-19 variants, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Saturday. 

In a public briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the health department only runs an average of 750 samples per week to detect the presence of virus variants. 

Because of this, the DOH sent a proposal to the government so they could buy 2 additional sequencing machines that could test 750 samples per run. 

"Ito pong ating whole genome sequencing, yes it is limited because we just run every week around 750 samples. Tayo po ngayon ay may move na para bumili ng additional na machines na ganito para mas madagdagan," Vergeire explained. 

(Our whole genome sequencing is limited. We already have moves to buy additional machines.) 

Based on the DOH bulletin as of May 3, the country has 14 active cases of COVID-19 variants, a paltry figure given the Philippines' total active infections of over 66,000 as of Friday. 

Newly-reported COVID-19 patients carrying the variants, meanwhile, have already recovered from the disease after the health department's announcement, while a few have died. 

But the health official explained that the agency's objective for now is to find where the cases of COVID-19 variants are located, the extent of spread, and whether they've already caused virus "clustering."

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She also pointed out that while all positive samples for COVID-19 could undergo genome sequencing to detect virus variants, there is a criteria that must be met. 

Among these is the non-contamination of the samples and their cycle threshold (CT) values. 

"Kung mapapansin niyo, kahit nagsu-submit ang isang unit natin for genome sequencing, hindi po lahat nate-test because we still screen them pagdating sa Philippine Genome Center based on the criterion," she said. 

(If you will notice, even if a laboratory unit was able to submit samples for genome sequencing, not all samples are tested because we still screen them.) 

The country also has genome sequencing machines at the UP National Institutes of Health and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, but Vergeire said they are operating at a limited capacity. 

So far, the following COVID-19 variants have been detected in the country: B.1.1.7 (first detected in the UK), B.1.351 (first detected in South Africa), and P.3 (first detected in the Philippines).

The P.3 variant is not yet identified as a variant of concern since current data is insufficient to determine whether it will have significant public health implications, relevant agencies said.

The 3 variants of concern classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) are the B.1.1.7; the B.1.351; and the P.1 (first detected in Brazil).

The country has so far tallied over 1.087 million COVID-19 cases, more than 18,000 of whom have died due to the disease.