The Department of Health (DOH) hopes that 1.5 percent of the population of 1.65 million Filipinos will be tested for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by the end of July, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Monday.
During a Malacanang briefing, Vergeire said that the Philippines has a rated testing capacity of almost 50,000 tests daily as 59 COVID-19 testing laboratories are already operational.
READ: Mass testing: Private initiatives, not government
Vergeire acknowledged, however, that the actual daily testing capacity differs from rated capacity because of some "operational issues" in the laboratories.
“We are hitting an average of 10,500 to 11,000 [tests] a day for output,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English. “We hope this will hold steady until the end of July so we can have tested 1.5 percent of the population.”
The target 1.5 percent of the population is equivalent to 1.65 million individuals. As of June 13, the number of cumulative unique individuals tested by the DOH was 468,681.
Vergeire said that to narrow the gap between the actual and rated testing capacity, the DOH is employing different measures.
Vergeire said that additional subsectors—composed of other front liners such as barangay health emergency response teams and social workers, and other vulnerable persons such as the pregnant—were included in the DOH's expanded testing guidelines.
"Expectedly, there will be an increase in the samples that will be submitted to our laboratories," she said.
The accreditation of more COVID-19 testing laboratories is also ongoing, she added.
At present, there is a backlog of about 2,200 cases with the laboratories, Vergeire said. She added that she was optimistic that these “late cases” would be eliminated soon.
Meanwhile, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said Manila Doctors Hospital will begin a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on the use of melatonin—a commonly available and inexpensive sleep-aid supplement—to enhance the immune response of COVID-19 patents.
READ: Health widens testing targets
In a statement, the DOST said melatonin is also known for its anti-inflammation, anti-oxidation and immune-enhancing effects, which may help alleviate acute respiratory distress caused by viral infections such as COVID-19.
To support the current efforts against the pandemic, the study seeks to probe whether administering high doses of melatonin will lessen the need for intubation or ventilation support of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and ultimately improve the survival rate against the infection.
The study will be the first RCT worldwide, which will explore the effectiveness and safety of using high doses of melatonin as adjuvant therapy on top of standard therapy in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 pneumonia.
“We are aiming to build on the use of melatonin as a commonly available supplement to support our fight against COVID-19,” Jaime Montoya, executive director of the DOST's Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD). “If the project proves to be successful, we may be able to de-escalate COVID-19 cases better, and possibly reduce the mortality rate of the infection.”
The pilot study done for the project has also been accepted for publication in the Melatonin Research Journal, which observed that patients given with high doses of the drug showed faster clinical improvement. The article will be released next month.
With support from DOST-PCHRD, the project will run for four months in selected hospitals in Metro Manila and Cebu City.