"These trying times are meant for introspection and self-examination."
This week, the entire country is placed under less stringent quarantine as more areas transition into general community quarantine and modified general community quarantine. Slowly, we are starting on the “new normal” to adapt to the exigencies of the times. This crisis, however, may last longer than expected as there remain a lot of areas where COVID testing is insufficient or unavailable.
The Department of Health (DOH) announced that as of May 31, 2020, there are 38 certified facilities using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and 11 GeneXpert laboratories, bringing it to a total of 49 COVID testing centers in the Philippines. This falls short of the targeted number of 66 testing laboratories to be accredited by the DOH for the month of May. There are 11 regions with PCR testing capability, while nine regions have the GeneXpert facilities. In sum, 15 regions have testing centers with the average number of one to three testing centers per region, except for the National Capital Region having the highest number of 26 testing centers spread in different cities.
Under these circumstances, cooperation among provinces is crucial. The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) has been receiving large volumes of swabs every day for testing. This unduly delays the processing and verification of the test results with the limited capacity and personnel of the facility. To help reduce the burden on the RITM, I call on the provinces with licensed COVID-19 testing centers to help nearby provinces in conducting testing. The number of testing centers in each region ranges from one to three which means that at least 5 provinces have to share in the capacity of the testing center. This is still insufficient, though this may help address the delays and speed up turnovers by allowing nearby provinces to submit their test swabs to the accredited testing center in the region. In turn, these accredited facilities should be given financial support and supplementary personnel to be able to maximize its capacity and sustain its operations.
I also call on the DOH to expedite the approval of other health facilities to meet the testing needs of the country and accommodate more swab samples as testing expands to other classifications. As the saying goes, nip it in the bud. Identification of the carriers is crucial and indispensable to control and contain transmission of the disease.
Looking at the trend of COVID-19 in rich European nations and the United States, however, it seems that wealth can only do so much in times of crisis. Notably, there are low-income, developing countries that have successfully curbed the COVID-19 pandemic. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos top the list with zero COVID-related deaths. Vietnam has only 328 confirmed cases with 35 active cases; Cambodia has 125 cases with only two active cases; while Laos has only 19 cases with three active cases reported as of 31 May 2020. Meanwhile, Thailand has only 57 deaths and 3,082 COVID-19 cases. Lebanon has 27 deaths and 1,233 confirmed cases, while Oman has 50 deaths and 12,223 confirmed cases. Interestingly, these countries are religious countries as well.
This pandemic has brought many challenges to all as social and economic activities are put to a halt. Let us consider this pandemic as wake up call. The past ECQ and this continuing situation is meant for introspection and self-examination. We should strengthen our faith as we fervently and unceasingly pray and hope that we, our families, and loved ones be spared from this infectious and dreadful disease.