House leader bats for more virus testing centers

THE lack of testing centers might be causing the underreporting of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country.

This is according to Deputy Majority Leader and Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter “Shark” Palma II as he urged the Department of Health (DOH) to expedite the approval of pending testing centers.

Palma asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to extend all assistance to all local government officials who have pending applications to establish their COVID-19 screening center.

“With the guidance, wisdom, skills and technical expertise of our good secretary and the country’s health experts, I don’t think there is reason to deny any application of local officials to establish more facilities nationwide for COVID-19 laboratory tests that are fully compliant with the standards set by the Department of Health,” Palma said.

The House leader pointed out that despite the government’s efforts, there might be more people out there who are COVID-19 positive and may be passing the disease unknowingly.

There should be testing centers and laboratories nationwide, he said.

“I believe also that our present figures are not accurate because swabbing results for COVID-19 screening have been delayed,” Palma added.

I this regard, the solon is proposing that all regional hospitals in Mindanao be authorized as testing centers to make the virus screening accessible to Mindanaoans and help the government eliminate COVID-19.

The  Zamboanga City Medical Center (ZCMC), the only tertiary DOH-retained hospital in Region IX, has a pending application with the DOH to set up a facility for COVID-19 testing in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

He lamented that residents of Region IX have been relying on the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) C-130 to fly swab samples to Manila for testing at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the only national laboratory for infectious and tropical diseases in Muntinlupa City.

The House leader also said the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Region IX in Zamboanga City also offered its facility as screening center because of the department’s capacity for Diagnostic Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), a laboratory-based procedure found to be most reliable for diagnosing COVID-19, using the Bio-Rad CFX96 Real-Time System. The machine is currently being used for detection of African swine fever and Avian Influenza.

“We have done our part in strengthening Region IX’s COVID-19 outbreak response and we are hoping that the Department of Health will act favorably very soon. More testing laboratories and testing kits would mean faster identification, isolation of infected individuals and better chances of defeating COVID-19,” Palma pointed out.

To date, the DOH has designated the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City as the only World Health Organization (WHO)-accredited facility for all laboratory tests on COVID-19 in Mindanao.