December 5, 2023

Sometime in May, a group of doctors and a few laymen got together and started pondering how they can help the Baguio community, its neighbors in Benguet, other Cordillera provinces, and other areas in northern Luzon cope with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Concerns were raised, especially among surgeons, now that the Philippine College of Surgeons has required patients to undergo polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before surgery. The sad reality was the facilities at Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center and other public and private hospitals could hardly cope with the volume of patients requiring testing.
So, the concept of establishing a molecular laboratory was born, spearheaded by Drs. Sammy and Sherry Cunanan, together with Dr. Samuel Ang, medical director and Surgery Department head of the Chinese General Hospital (CGH) and president of Surgical Oncology Society of the Philippines; and Dr. Daphne Ang, a molecular pathologist at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Hospital and CGH.
Ang is one of the few board board certified molecular pathologists in the country.
They were joined by several medical practitioners from Baguio and Benguet while a handful of laymen went on with the plan of setting up a general laboratory. Real estate developer Fernando Tiong offered his building to be leased as the site of the lab.
I am not a doctor, but from the literature that I have read, a PCR test can detect even very small amounts of genetic material in a sample by duplicating it many times over through a complex laboratory process called amplification.
The brand of choice for a real-time PCR machine is either Sunsure or Quantgene ribonucleic acid (RNA) extractor machine. These machines determine the actual presence of SARS-CoV2.
PCR testing is the gold standard in coronavirus testing. Each PCR automated machine can process up to 1,000 samples a day.
Rapid test kits, which require a patient’s blood sample, can only detect antibodies but not the SARS-CoV2, hence for purely psychological purposes, a negative result assuages the paranoia but not a guarantee.
A molecular lab test, therefore, would dictate the pace of the rest of the procedures from admitting patients who turned positive, to administering the necessary care, to helping them towards recovery.
These same machines could also be used to detect other illnesses like tubercolosis, hepatitis, immuno stainings, STAT (from the Latin word “statum” meaning immediately, urgent or rush) tests, fluorescence in situ hybridization test that is done on breast tissues to determine if a cancer is either “positive” or “negative,” leukemia, as well as the Zika virus, and HIV. The results can be released in 24 to 72 hours.
I read in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the World Health Organization recommends that countries should test 13 percent of their population, which means the Philippines needs to test at least 14 million of its almost 110 million population.
In the National Capital Region where the total population is 12.9 million, 13 percent means 1.7 million people. As per data of the Department of Health last week, around 609,327 have been tested.
In the Cordillera, 13 percent of about two million would be 260,000, while 13 percent of Baguio’s 372,680 population would be 48,448 needing to be tested. I would not know the exact figures of those who have undergone actual testing but my guess is as good as yours, pretty low.
After many sleepless nights and restless days of pencil pushing, planning, plenty of computations, and actual construction, the first molecular laboratory was registered with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Permits Business and Licensing Division, named Parkway Medical and Diagnostic Center. By this time, it would have been accredited by the DOH as the 68th or 69th molecular lab in the country and will formally open its doors to the public soonest as time is of the essence.
The molecular laboratory will be the first private coronavirus testing laboratory in Luzon and is expected to boost the medical response to the pandemic. It will offer the lowest price possible, in fact at par with government hospitals and the fastest test results.
The lab will have Dr. Dave Taclobao as its chief pathologist with five medical technologists (Florencio Baltazar V, Sheena Asan-Manding, Ajee Osben, Christiana Ramos, Lorenzo Louise Agpawan, and Saniata Shayne Molina Pambid). They were all trained with Detoxicare Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila and at BGHMC.
The lab will have at least 50 doctors who are part of the elite in the medical field. They too were part of the conceptualization and ultimate realization of the project. The mere fact of its actual existence in the heart of the city is reassuring thoughts for our people – at this time of pandemic there is molecular lab at arm’s length to serve us.