Marikina to open coronavirus testing center sans DOH license

MANILA, Philippines – A defiant Marikina City government will start operating its coronavirus disease testing center on Friday, April 17, even without a permit from the Department of Health (DOH).

In a statement on Tuesday, April 14, Marikina City Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said that he was invoking the city’s local autonomy in making the decision. The DOH, he stressed, has dragged its feet in accrediting the testing center which would be beneficial to Marikina residents as the nation’s capital grapples with the surge in coronavirus cases.

Matagal na kaming naghihintay sa approval ng DOH. Eh, sumunod naman kami sa lahat ng hinihingi nilang protocol—sa standard na sinasabi nila. At sinunod namin lahat ng recommendations nila, at findings na nakita nila sa unang laboratoryo na itinayo namin, three weeks ago—tatlong linggo na ang nakakaraan,” Teodoro said.

(We have been waiting for the DOH approval for a long time. We followed all the protocol, the standard that they required. We followed their recommendations and findings from the first laboratory that we built. That was 3 weeks ago.)

Soon after he made the announcement, a team from the DOH and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) supposedly arrived to check the facility.

Teodoro said that he was ready to face lawsuits should the DOH try to bring him to court for his decision. He said, however, that the health department’s inaction was a bigger infraction because people were dying. As of April 13, Marikina has 99 COVID-19 cases with 8 fatalities and 5 recoveries. (READ: Where are the coronavirus cases in Metro Manila?)

Teodoro is banking on Section 16 of the Local Government Code, which provides that "every local government units shall exercise the powers necessary, and appropriate in the promotion of general welfare and health of the public."

He also said that his decision was in line with Presidential Proclamation No. 922 which declares a State of Public Emergency in the country, which "enjoins all LGUs to mobilize the necessary resources to undertake critical, urgent, and appropriate response and measures in a timely manner to curtail and eliminate the threat of COVID-19"

A month ago, the Marikina City government announced that it would open its molecular COVID-19 testing center. After the DOH disapproved its location, the testing center was transferred to a 2-storey freestanding structure in Barangay Concepcion Uno, a less populated area but accessible because it is along one of the city’s main avenues.

WHO strategy

However, the DOH still has not given it accreditation. Teodoro got tired of waiting and cited the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation to pursue an “offensive strategy” in the outbreak by conducting mass testing.

Teodoro is confident that the Marikina COVID-19 Testing Center would be able to do its job.

The city government has signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Manila Heath Tek, Inc., ordering 3,000 more COVID-19 test kits that have been developed by the University of the Philippines-National Institute for Health (UP-NIH) and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These kits are on top of the first 3,000 kits the city had already ordered.

Some 200 persons under monitoring (PUMs) will be the first to be tested, Teodoro said. (The DOH has recently adopted the new categorizations of coronavirus cases as prescribed by the WHO, which dropped the PUM category.)

The mayor said that swabbing will be done in the patients’ homes or at hospitals. Those who will test positive for COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by the pathogen, will be isolated. But Teodoro promised that the city government will provide them with supportive treatment to allow them to recuperate well.

Biosafety training

Health Undersecretary Ma Rosario Vergeire denied in a press briefing also on Tuesday that the DOH has been giving the Marikina City government a difficult time.

Vergeire said that based on the DOH-RITM team’s assessment last Monday, the Marikina COVID-19 Test Center was 80-90 percent complete and their laboratory personnel still have to undergo biosafety training. The earliest training to be conducted by RITM is on Monday, April 20. 

The DOH-RITM team also advised Marikina City to enroll their lab technicians in the online course of UP NIH on Sunday so that they could prepare for the practical or hands on biosafety training of the RITM on Monday.

Vergeire reiterated the reminder of RITM director, Dr. Celia Carlos, that the coronavirus is “highly contagious” which requires having laboratory technologists who are trained on biosafety and PCR procedures; a biosafety Level 2 facility; regularly calibrated equipment and instruments; and implementation of well-established protocols on the quality assurance of test results.

Vergeire warned that being unable to follow the right procedure would harm not only those who would process the samples but the people of Marikina City themselves.

Hindi po ang DOH ang nangiipit sa inyo. Kami po ay kaalyado nyo sa laban na ito. Ngunit kailangan po natin sundin ang siyensya at ang tamang proseso. Kung hindi ang mamamayan nyo mismo ang magdurusa dito,” she said.

(The DOH is not giving you a hard time. We are your ally in this fight. But we have to follow science and the right process or else it is your constituents who will suffer.)

Vergeire said that there are 15 DOH-licensed COVID-19 testing centers, most of which are in Metro Manila, where Marikina City can send their swab samples while waiting for the accreditation of its own testing center.

Other local government units have, in fact, tied up with these facilities for their respective mass testings, she said. – Rappler.com