Covid-19 testing in VSMMC now operational

THE Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) subnational laboratory for the novel coronavirus 2019 has started its operation Thursday, March 19, 2020, a local health official said.

Jaime Bernadas, Department of Health (DOH) Central Visayas director, said that VSMMC needed to operate immediately to prioritize in-patients in need of immediate testing.

"Although, we have a limited number of reagents or testing kits, we have to prioritize those in-patients that are needing the immediate testing," Bernadas said.

He said this will assist them in the management of patients and in the shortening of the possible admission days of patients.

Dr. Gerardo Aquino Jr., chief-of-hospital of VSMMC, said as of Thursday afternoon, they are already running 60 specimen tests.

He said about 100 reaction kits arrived in VSMMC Wednesday night.

"Medyo kulang (Our supplies are limited) but hopefully we can have more of the reaction kits. We are also expecting some reaction kits from outside sources," Aquino said.

Aquino said one reaction kit is good for one patient. However, the 100 reaction kits cannot be used for 100 patients since, accoriding VSMMC pathology department, they have to leave some for control measures.

"What they are saying is the maximum is 75 (reaction kits for 75 patients)," he said.

Bernadas said since the disease is a novel coronavirus, identified only early January 2020, all the laboratory technologies for the detection and confirmation of the virus is new and that the country initally did not have the technology to respond to testing and detection of the virus.

"Unfortunately, the initial test (kits) that were procured by our government were saturated when cases went a little more in the Metro Manila. So, very late ang activation sa atong subnational laboratories," Bernadas said.

As a procedure, they cannot use non-Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-validated kits.

He added that they currently have a reagent under trial developed by the University of the Philippines (UP)-College of Public Health. These are being run at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and at the UP-Philippine General Hospital, with an exception given by the FDA.

Bernadas said there is a plan to expand the test run to the five other subnational laboratories including VSMMC.

He said there are a lot of pledges for kits, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines, and diagnostic reagents. Some of them are already in the possession of the VSMCC, but it is not yet a complete one and they still cannot do the test at this time.

PCR is a molecular study that identifies the genome or footprints of the viruses and is the more definitive diagnostic tool to identify the viruses.

It is not available and cannot be used in all laboratories. For now, it is only the VSMMC that is operating such a laboratory and one more private hospital in Cebu but with the same limitation on the use of unregistered testing kits.

As a consequence of the difficulty in acquiring testing kits, they have shifted their monitoring from persons under monitoring (PUMs) to patients under investigation (PUIs) to the Influenza-like Illnesses Surveillance and Response strategy.

"We have cascaded down to the different municipalities and cities the templates and the reporting mechanisms that is to be submitted through a mobile application," Bernadas said.

The mobile application are in the different cellphones of health workers in the field so that there will be real-time reporting online and immediate actions on cases that are reported in municipalities and barangays.

He said they are prioritizing attendance to severe acute respiratory infections that are immediately referred to their hospitals directly to their tertiary hospitals. (WBS)