THE coronavirus disease (Covid-19) diagnostic laboratory proposed by the University of the Philippines (UP)-Mindanao is now in its engineering planning and manpower training stages, said Philippine Genome Center (PGC)-Mindanao director.

About a month ago, UP-Mindanao made public their diagnostic program which is seen to provide free testing for Covid-19 in Davao Region. This diagnostic program is expected to supplement the existing testing equipment of the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC), currently the only sub-national medical facility in the entire Mindanao that tests for Covid-19.

The P15-million biosafety molecular facility being proposed by UP Mindanao will have a gold-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detection system among other equipment similar to SPMC.

In a recent phone interview with PGC-Mindanao Director Dr. Lyre Anni Murao, she shared that the local government of Davao del Norte and Tagum City have agreed to partner with the university and house the facility at the Davao Regional Medical Center (DRMC) in Tagum City.

“As local chief executives, we hereby commit and support your proposal to establish a mobile diagnostics laboratory for rapid medical and public health response to Covid-19 in the province,” read the joint letter of Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib and Tagum City Mayor Allan Rellon to UP Mindanao.

Majority of the funding for the lab will be shouldered by the Davao del Norte government while operational cost, medical kits and supplies will be coming from DRMC.

An engineering team now plans for the construction of the facility which includes a 60-square meter laboratory and an office from container vans, the fastest way to construct the much-needed facility. They are targeting the full operation of the diagnostic facility by June 2020. However, Murao mentioned how they are also banking for the construction to be completed earlier.

As the construction is now on its initial phase, the manpower training has also commenced. Murao said they are going to train 20 medical staff from DRMC and about ten volunteers. The university, through its official Facebook page, announced on Monday, April 20, that the first batch of volunteers from Davao Region had already started with their Sars-COV-2 diagnostics training focusing on RNA extraction.

“This one-week training was conceptualized to capacitate hospitals and volunteers with technical skills for Covid diagnostics for deployment to the diagnostic laboratory in DRMC, Tagum City, that will provide testing for coronavirus disease (Covid-19) to persons in the region, free of charge,” read the university’s post.

Once operational, the diagnostic lab has the capacity to run about 110 tests a day. With priority given to patients showing symptoms, Murao said the results can actually be released after 24 hours.

“Definitely, it’s helpful because as of now we only have one sub-national facility in the entire Mindanao – SPMC. We haven’t even peaked yet. And Mindanao is huge as compared to Luzon. They have at least ten labs being set up now,” said Murao.

Aside from Davao del Norte, she said four other provinces in Mindanao have expressed interest in having diagnostic facilities put up in their areas. Some of these have existing positive cases in their respective areas already.

“They haven’t really confirmed yet but in order to have diagnostic facilities in their provinces, they would need to have the financial and the manpower capacities,” Murao said.