June 9, 2023

As regions across the nation transition into modified general community quarantine by June 1, officials of the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center announced that turnaround time in the testing and processing of specimen at its molecular and pathological laboratory has improved.

BGHMC Public Health Unit Head Leamor Fangonilo said the laboratory’s five polymerase chain reaction machines, and the automatic RNA extractor lent by the Benguet General Hospital helped increase the lab’s testing capacity.

The BGHMC molecular lab can process an average of 200 to 300 samples per day.

Fangonilo said in the next few weeks, BGHMC will process more samples as it is now in the process of training newly hired personnel.

From three medical technologists, the lab now has nine medtechs.

She said five more are being trained and two are now doing actual RNA extraction, with supervision from pathologists.

The national government is targeting to build or accredit at least 78 laboratories nationwide to increase the country’s testing capacity to meet its objective of tracing and treating asymptomatic carriers of the Covid-19 pathogen. 

In a meeting last week with local chief executives and agency heads, Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the national policy against the Covid-19, said that following the Germany and South Korea models, the government can confidently lift restrictions if it is able to expand the nation’s testing capacity.

The government targets to conduct 30,000 tests daily. At present, only around 7,000 tests are conducted daily.

The target for regions 1, 2, and the Cordillera is between 2,000 and 3,000 tests per day.

Department of Health OIC Regional Director Amelita Pangilinan said if a molecular lab opens in regions 1 (Ilocos Region) and 2 (Cagayan Valley), the BGHMC lab will soon cater to Cordillera residents only.

The provincial government of Benguet has also discussed the possibility of establishing a molecular laboratory at the Benguet General Hospital, following its receipt of PCR and automated RNA extraction machines from legislative caretaker Rep. Eric Yap, said Provincial DOH Development Management Officer V Mercedes Calpito.

Calpito said BGHMC will provide technical assistance to BeGH when plans to setup a molecular lab  shall have been concretized.

Setting up a molecular lab would cost around P200 million apart from the training that pathologists and medtechs have to undergo to be able to work in a laboratory with a complex setup.

The tests done in a molecular lab are genotyping, identifying mutation defects, DNA sequencing, and paternity testing. At present, only the Regional Institute for Tropical Medicine is recognized by the World Health Organization as capable of doing Covid-19 testing.

RITM personnel, on the other hand, train those in sub-national laboratories.

Based on WHO standards, a molecular lab should be composed of a clinical pathologist with knowledge in infectious diseases and training in molecular laboratory diagnosis and analysts with experience in molecular biology techniques, laboratory aide, receptionist, and encoder.

For the structure, a Covid-19 testing lab should have adequate and appropriate areas where specimen reception, virus inactivation and nucleic acid extraction, reagent storage and handling, PCR, and clerical activities are conducted. – Rimaliza A. Opiña