South Cotabato will soon start testing COVID-19 cases using GeneXpert machine

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 27 May) – South Cotabato will soon start conducting polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases using a GeneXpert machine, Gov. Renaldo Tamayo Jr. said.

An unusually quiet Koronadal City, capital of South Cotabato, during quarantine.. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

The province will be using one of the three GeneXpert machines earlier donated by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) to the province for the testing of tuberculosis cases.

The governor said one of the machines was not being used as the laboratory building at the Soccsksargen General Hospital in the municipality of Surallah town was still under construction.

Tamayo said the national government has allowed the province to use the idle GeneXpert machine for the COVID-19 testing facility at the Dr. Arturo P. Pingoy Medical Center (DAPPMC) in the capital city of Koronadal.

He said this development was relayed by Secretary Vince Dizon, the deputy chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19, during a meeting of the Soccsksargen Regional Inter-Agency Task Force here on Tuesday.

The NTF instructed Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire and Assistant Secretary Narciso Santiago to facilitate the transfer of the GeneXpert machine – from Surallah to Koronadal, 30 kilometers away – within the week and provide the cartridges needed for the PCR testing, Tamayo said.

Vergeire heads the DOH Health Regulation Team while Santiago oversees the operations of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

Tamayo said in a statement that Dizon directed the DOH-12 to immediately send laboratory personnel of the DAPPMC to undergo training at the Cotabato Regional Medical Center (CRMC) in Cotabato City.

CRMC opened last week its COVID-19 testing center, with a capacity of 72 PCR tests per day, also using a GeneXpert machine.

“We will not wait for the machine and cartridges to arrive. The training will be conducted immediately,” said Tamayo, citing Dizon’s instructions.

The provincial government had signed a memorandum of understanding with DAPPMC, a private hospital owned by the family of former South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr., for the hosting of the COVID-19 testing center.

DAPPMC is one of only two hospitals in Region 12 or Soccsksargen that has an accredited biosafety level 2 laboratory, which was a requirement for COVID-19 testing. The other facility was the CRMC.

Tamayo said they had been waiting since last month for the issuance of a letter of instruction from the DOH for the use of the idle GeneXpert machine.

“We requested to use that machine while the purchase of our own unit is still on process,” he said.

Tamayo thanked the NTF, through its chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez, for providing some 1,500 rapid test kits for the province on Tuesday.

The test kits were aimed to facilitate the testing for COVID-19 of returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and residents stranded in other areas.

“We will start the testing next week,” Tamayo added. (MindaNews)