DOH okays COVID-19 testing lab in Koronadal

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 05 June) – The provincial government of South Cotabato may now start testing residents for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) after getting the green light from the Department of Health (DOH) for the operationalization of its testing laboratory.

South Cotabato Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. said Friday the DOH has finally issued a “license to operate (LTO)” for the COVID-19 testing center at the privately-run Dr. Arturo P. Pingoy Medical Center (DAPPMC) in Koronadal City.

Landmark in Koronadal City.

He said the DOH’s Health Facilities and Services Regulation Bureau officially released the LTO on Thursday, June 4, three days after the facility successfully completed the proficiency testing and final assessment.

It allows DAPPMC to conduct Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, until Dec. 31, 2020 using a GeneXpert machine.

“After the long wait and numerous challenges along the way, we finally have our own testing Covid-19 center,” Tamayo said in a press conference.

The facility’s accreditation came only 10 days after the National Task Force against COVID-19, through deputy chief implementer Sec. Vince Dizon, facilitated the approval on the use of a GeneXpert machine donated by the DOH and Philippine Business for Social Progress for the testing center.

The NTF directed on Tuesday last week the immediate and the transfer of the machine to DAPPMC ant the training of the designated laboratory personnel.

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

Tamayo said they opted to forge a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the hospital as it already has a ready and accredited biosafety level 2 laboratory.

He said it was the faster route and less costly for the province in terms of putting up a testing center, which could cost around PHP50 million.

The governor described the partnership with DAPPMC as a unique setup and the “first PPP for a COVID-19 testing laboratory in the country.”

Dr. Rogelio Aturdido Jr., chief of the South Cotabato Integrated Health Office (IPHO), said the testing center will be jointly manned by trained personnel from the provincial government and DAPPMC.

He said the local government will provide the necessary supplies and personal protective equipment while the hospital will shoulder the electricity and other related expenses. The IPHO has an initial 1,200 standby test cartridges provided by the DOH.

Aturdido said GeneXpert machine has a capacity of four modules every hour or around 30 RT-PCR tests for an eight-hour operation.

But he said the purchase was ongoing for another machine that will have a capacity of 16 modules and can process at least 90 samples per day.

Citing their projections, Aturdido said the processing and release of the test results will only take at least eight hours, a significant improvement from the turnaround time of three days to a week for the testing samples at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City and the Cotabato Regional Medical Center in Cotabato City.

“If we get and process the samples in the morning, the results will be out in the afternoon,” he said, adding that the facility will also cater to samples from other areas in Soccsksargen.

Dr. Nanette Pingoy-Franco, DAPPMC chief executive officer and medical director, said they were grateful for being chosen by the provincial government as partner for the initiative.

“This is part of our continuing commitment to support the fight against COVID-19 in the province,” she said.

She said the operationalization of the testing center was a big help to front-line health workers handling suspected patients and the epidemiology teams who were working to trace the extent of COVID-19 infection in the area.

Franco assured that all necessary measures were in place to ensure the safe handling of swab samples as well as the management and disposal of its wastes. (MindaNews)