No reason for DOH to reject more COVID-19 testing centers

WITH the strict guidance and support of the Department of Health (DoH), a Mindanao House leader on Monday said there is no reason to reject any pending application of local government units (LGUs) to establish more coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) screening centers nationwide.

House Deputy Majority Leader and Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter “Sharky” Wee Palma II strongly urged Health Sec. Francisco Duque III to extend all possible necessary assistance to all local government officials who are working for swift and favorable action on their own COVID-19 testing centers.

“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,” said Palma.

Palma said the lack of testing centers may have caused the underreporting of COVID-19 cases in the country.

“Despite our best efforts, I fear that there are more people out there who are COVID-19 positive and may be passing the disease unknowingly because we lack the laboratories and testing centers nationwide.

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

Palma said the Zamboanga City Medical Center (ZCMC), the only tertiary DoH-retained hospital in Region IX, has pending application before 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 Arme 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.

Palma said 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.

The House leader also pointed out that the lack of COVID-19 testing centers in many parts of the country has been clogging up the already overloaded hospitals.

“This has been causing much delay and could have been contributing to underreporting of COVID-19 cases, which is very unhealthy in making an objective assessment of our current health situation,” Palma stressed.

He lamented the DoH’s rejection of Marikina City’s application for COVID-19 testing center because of the requirement that the facility should have been located in a separate building despite passing all the criteria.

“Appropriate guidance should have been extended to Marikina City officials during the process of application because we need to act as one and with dispatch to successfully eliminate COVID-19,” Palma pointed out.