Operational issues affect COVID-19 labs’ testing



The  Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday said COVID-19 laboratories face some challenges that affect the country’s testing capacity for the disease.

In an interview on ANC, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire explained that the government has yet to meet its target of conducting 30,000 actual tests a day, which was being eyed for the end of the month, due to operational issues.

“We are averaging about 8,500 to 9,500 (actual) tests [per day] for the past week… because of the different laboratories experiencing operational issues,” said Vergeire.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque had said that on May 20, the Philippines was already capable of running 32,100 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests per day.

Vergeire explained that Roque’s statement refers to the estimate for the maximum testing capacity of all accredited laboratories.

“Currently, we have 42 licensed laboratories. And based from the estimates that we do, based on the number of their machines, the number of health human resources that they have, and the hours for their operations, we have estimated this capacity of 32,000 for all of these 42 laboratories,” Vergeire said.

However, Vergeire said that the estimate did not consider factors that might affect the operations of laboratories.

One factor is the supplies, given that there is a shortage not only in the country but also overseas.

“Second would be issues with our health human resources. Some of them may be affected, or some of them do not have the training or the capacity to do these kind of test,” she said.

The third is the huge increase in samples being tested because of the mass testing being done by local government units.

“These are the things that we are confronted with everyday, plus the fact that whenever there are, for example, the typhoon that recently happened, it has affected some of our laboratories like in Bicol; here in UP-NIH, the exhaust broke down in their negative pressure room. So these kind of daily operational issues, we need to confront them. And these really hampers operations,” she said.

Vergeire said the accreditation of laboratories also take time because applicants need to conform with biosafety standards, pointing out that they will be handling live virus.

Meanwhile, while the health official does not agree with observations that the country is slow in its contact-tracing efforts, even as she concedes “there are really issues in our health system, especially with regard to the identification of people who can do contact-tracing.”

Vergeire said the benchmark set is one tracer for every 800 people. If this is followed, “we are short of about 94,000” contact-tracers, she said.

“Right now, we’re trying to strengthen it. And we’re doing emergency hiring for contact-tracers in the country,” Vergeire said, adding that this is in partnership with local government units.

The government opened swabbing centers earlier this month to boost its response efforts to the pandemic as it wanted to ramp up its COVID-19 testing capacity by the end of the month./Stacy Ang


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