THE backlog in diagnostic tests for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has reached 7,000, according to National Task Force on Covid-19 deputy chief implementer Vivencio “Vince” Dizon.
Based on the May 14, 2020 update released by the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) sub-national laboratory (SNL), as of 1 p.m. Thursday, the laboratory has 844 pending samples after having tested a total of 14,323 samples, including 13,074 samples from Central Visayas and 1,249 samples from Eastern Visayas.
Dr. Shelbay Blanco, chief of the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit of the Department of Health-Central Visayas (DOH 7) Center for Health Development, said the backlog is also because the VSMMC SNL is catering to two regions for now: Central and Eastern Visayas.
"Plus due to the increased number of collected specimens," he said in a text message to SunStar Cebu.
Meanwhile, Jaime Bernadas, DOH 7 director, said he has yet to check the backlog at the DOH 7-operated Tb Reference Laboratory (TBRL) Molecular Facility for Covid-19 Testing which is also conducting Covid-19 tests.
"The extractor of TBRL has arrived and is operating now. We can already erase our backlog in two days," he said.
Following a meeting with representatives of all accredited testing laboratories nationwide on Wednesday, May 13, Dizon said he was confident that this backlog would be addressed in two weeks.
“We were able to find a solution and we’re very confident that with the help of our private partners we can address the problem and we will be able to raise our daily testing capacity in no time,” he said in Tagalog during the regular virtual press briefing of Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.
Dizon, the presidential assistant on flagship programs and projects who is in charge of the government’s test, trace and treat program, said two major agreements were reached during the meeting.
Firstly, private testing laboratories agreed to help government-run laboratories address their backlog beginning May 14, and secondly, donors such as the San Miguel Corp. provided the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and other government laboratories with machines to speed up some processes.
The automation of some processes in government laboratories would increase capacity by at least 80 percent, Dizon said.
He said actual tests conducted per day averaged 8,700 tests on May 10, around 74 percent higher than the 5,000 tests on May 2. Testing capacity went up 70 percent to 14,500 tests per day on May 10 from 8,500 on May 2 as the number of accredited laboratories increased.
As of May 14, the government has authorized 30 laboratories nationwide to conduct the RT-PCR (reverse transcription - polymerase chain reaction) diagnostic test for Covid-19.
The goal is to bring testing capacity up to 30,000 per day and accredit up to 66, not 78 as earlier targeted, laboratories by May 30.
Dizon said the task force targets to accredit at least one laboratory per major island in the Visayas and open additional laboratories in Mindanao.
Dizon stressed that the most effective way to address the Covid-19 pandemic is through mass testing.
“It’s the only way we can determine how much the disease has spread in our communities,” he said in Tagalog.
Processing of the estimated 7,000 specimens, however, has been delayed due to various reasons, including lack of supplies and technical problems with the machines.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, in a resolution passed May 13, clarified that local government units are authorized to procure and use rapid antibody test kits approved by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
As of May 8, the FDA has approved the commercial use of 39 rapid antibody test kits with varying specifications.
The test kits approved by the FDA can detect either the total antibody, IgG or IgM, or a combination of two antibodies.
The total antibody signifies the collective response of the patient’s immune system.
IgM antibodies represent response to a current or recent infection, while IgG antibodies represent response from a past infection.
The FDA has also approved 38 RT-PCR test kits as of May 5.
These diagnostic test kits detect the presence of the novel coronavirus, or Sars-CoV-2, from nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs. ( MVI WITH JTM, WBS / SUNSTAR PHILIPPINES)