Detecting COVID-19 variant cases in Mindanao will soon be done in Mindanao

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 August) – Detection of Delta and other variant cases of COVID-19 in Mindanao will soon be done in Mindanao instead of the present practice of sending specimens to the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) in Quezon City for whole genome sequencing (WGS) and waiting for several weeks to get results.

Dr. Ricardo Audan, chief of the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) told MindaNews on Saturday that they are just awaiting the arrival of the equipment for WGS but they already have trained personnel for it as the SPMC is a sub-national laboratory.

MindaNews earlier asked Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega if the Department of Health (DOH) was going to support PGC Mindanao which has been doing WGS for research purposes since June,  or if SPMC will be equipped for genome sequencing  given the need for faster detection of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

According to the Department of Health, a person infected with the Delta variant can infect five to eight persons.

The reported Delta variant cases have all been tagged “recovered” by the time results about their being infected with the Delta variant are received in Mindanao. The same situation has been noted in the detection of other variants in Mindanao. Because it takes weeks before the results are released, the patients are reported to have “recovered” before the results of the whole genome sequencing are released.

As of August 11 the number of confirmed Delta variant cases in three of six regions in Mindanao had reached 33 with Cagayan de Oro posting the highest at 21, Davao City with six, two in Davao del Norte and one each in Gingoog City, Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur, Zamboanga City and Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay.

By August 15, the total number of Delta variant cases in Mindanao had reached 46 as the Department of Health (DOH) central office reported 182 new cases, 13 of that in four regions of Mindanao: additional six in Northern Mindanao, additional three in the Davao region, the first three recorded cases in Caraga region and the first recorded in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The DOH report, however, did not indicate in which city or province the cases are.

Nationwide, the DOH has recorded a total of  807 Delta variant cases as of August 15. Ten days earlier, the total nationwide wsa 331.

The actual number of cases in Mindanao is expected to be more as 46 represents only those whose specimens went through the process of WGS and were confirmed to be Delta variant cases by the PGC at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City.

Vega said that although the UP Genome facility is under the UP health system, support is being given by the Department of Health (DOH) for logistics and equipment.

He said the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) which is under the DOH and the National Reference Lab “has a  sub-national laboratory network in Level 3 retained govt hospitals. Together with UP and RITM they will capacitate the centers for biosurveillance.”

“Under this program UP will expand via the academe platform and DOH through its sub-satellite labs in medical centers,” Vega said.

Aside from the Delta variant, additional cases of the Alpha, Beta and P3 variants  were also detected from the specimens sent to UP-PGC from Mindanao.

According to the DOH’s August 15 Summary Table of Additional Variant Cases, additional 16 cases of the Alpha variant,  first detected in the United Kingdom, were recorded in Mindanao: three in Region 9 or the Zamboanga Peninsula and 13 in the Davao region.

On the Beta variant, first detected in South Afrida, 32 aditional cases were recorded in Mindanao: five in the Zamboanga Peninsula and 27 in the Davao region, while the Davao region logged another case of the  P3 variant, first detected in the Philippines.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)