A team of homegrown Filipino scientists provided Philippine health authorities with a locally developed Covid-19 test kits to help speed-up widespread testing.
Availability of testing kits was the initial problem met by the Philippine government in combating Covid-19 when it became known that the disease had entered the country. Yet a group of 15 Filipino scientists from the University of the Philippines in Manila’s National Institutes of Health and from the Philippine Genome Center came together to provide the critical tool as early as January 2020.
The Need to Perform Diagnostic Tests of Suspected Covid-19 Cases ASAP
It became imperative for the Philippine government to act quickly when it became known that two Chinese nationals from Wuhan province were able to enter the Philippines and transmit the novel coronavirus during the early periods of the outbreak.
More so when the first case of community-transmitted Covid-19 infection was confirmed last March 02, 2020, involving a 62-year old Filipino male who regularly visited a Muslim prayer hall in one of Metro Manila’s busy communities.
The revelation only denoted that the spread of the disease in the country has become imminent. However, the Department of Health only has 2,000 kits available at present, while the number of people testing positive for Covid 19 infection quickly rose from 5, to 34 to 140, as of this writing. The number is expected to rise further, which means more aggressive testing is needed.
Thankfully, the scientists and researchers at Philippine Genome Center were proactive in performing their mission.
Tasked to conduct researches that work toward the development of low-cost technologies and generating new knowledge that will enable the Philippine government to detect and control infectious diseases using sustainable medical tools and equitable medical solutions, the team of U.P. scientists were able to produce test kits that quickly passed and earned the Food and Drug Administration’s evaluations and approval.
The DOST’s Philippine Genome Center Developed a Test Kit Ahead of News about the Spread of Covid-19 in the Country
Dr. Raul V. Destura, Deputy Executive Director at the Philippine Genome Center (PGC), led the team of Filipino technologists and researchers in developing what is locally known as the The GenAmplify™ COVID-19 rRT-PCR Detection Kit.
According to Dr. Destura, the team started developing the test kit in January, 2020, immediately after Chinese scientists shared information about the entire genome sequence of the virus with the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO in turn, disseminated the information to scientists to countries across the globe; whilst urging all research organizations to use the information in helping their respective country meet the necessary requirements in combating the novel coronavirus that at that time, already showed potentials of turning into a pandemic.
Dr. Destura said they are currently coordinating their activities with the Department of Health to rapidly diagnose people suspected to have spread the Covid-19 plague. The PGC Executive Director also reported that they have already manufactured and stockpiled kits in numbers sufficient to test 1,000 suspected cases.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST), under whose administration the PGC operates, said the local scientists will be able to immediately deploy FDA-approved 1,000 test kits In the coming weeks, and that they will be able to supply 2,000 to 3,000 more thereafter. The DOST also said that
”Although raw materials can be a limiting actor, the department gave assurance that their current supply of raw materials is enough to make 6,000 test kits for now.” “Orders to see to the development of 20,000 additional test kits have been placed.”
What makes the locally developed Covid-19 test kits significant is their affordability; an important factor in making the tool more accessible throughout the country.
Whereas the Philippine government has to procure foreign-developed test kits at a cost of ₱8,500 per unit, the GenAmplify™ Covid-19 testing tool developed by Filipino scientists costs only ₱1,320 per unit.
Reports have it that the WHO is also evaluating the testing capabilities of four other Philippine reference laboratories, namely the Lung Center of the Philippines in Metro Manila, the Baguio General Hospital in Northern Luzon, Vicente Sotto Medical Center in Visayas and the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Mindanao.
That way, the Philippine government through the Department of Health will be able to undertake widespread testing throughout the archipelago as soon as possible.