Public-private partnership to ramp up ‘T3’ – testing, tracing, treatment of Covid-19

IN a bid to not only boost the government’s testing capacity but  to ramp up isolation and treatment as well, the Inter-Agency Task Force-National Task Force (IATF-NTF) and the Department of Health (DOH), with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), convened the TASK FORCE T3 (for Test, Trace and Treat) to achieve at least 30,000 tests per day by May 30, 2020.

The DOH said this public-private task force will support the government’s efforts to swiftly expand RT-PCR (Reverse Transmission – Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing for Covid-19 from the current level of approximately 4,500 per day.

As this developed, the DOH said that the ADB  through its US$2.5-million grant assistance is setting up a Pandemic Sub-national Reference Laboratory (PSRL) in Jose B. Lingad Memorial General Hospital in San Fernando, Pampanga. 

The PSRL will have a daily output of 3,000 tests. 

The government has invited hospital, clinic and pharmaceutical groups Unilab, AC Health/Qualimed, and MPIC Hospital Group, as well as the Philippine National Red Cross and Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, to be the initial private sector members of Task Force T3, with the hope that other private sector groups will subsequently join in.

This expansion of RT-PCR testing is critical, DOH said, in managing Covid-19 and determining when the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) can be modified in selected locations and sectors.

RT-PCR tests are used as confirmatory tests for Covid-19 and are currently conducted in 18 public and private laboratries across the country. RT-PCR testing requires at least BioSafety

Level 2 facilities, specialized machinery, testing kits and reagents, and trained medical personnel. 

All facilities need to be jointly certified by the DOH and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). 

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation reimburses testing for individuals undergoing RT-PCR testing.

Task Force T3 will identify the most urgent requirements for PCR machines, testing kits, and fixed and mobile labs, and install these in priority hotspots as soon as possible.

The expanded capacity will be regionally dispersed so that test swabs can be delivered over the shortest distance to the nearest laboratory and results obtained in a timely manner.

According to Secretary Charlie Galvez, the NTF Chief Implementer of the National Action Plan against Covid-19, “We can mitigate the effects of Covid-19 on our economic well-being if we aggressively push for testing so that we can locate, isolate and care for

Covid-19 carriers and those who are sick in order to keep our communities safe enough to resume a level of economic activities.” 

This, he added, is meant “to further avoid a humanitarian crisis. In so doing, we strike a fine balance between ensuring public health and safeguarding livelihoods and our economic well-being.”

“The Department commits to expediting the certification process for existing laboratories,

and for new laboratories that will be built,” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is also the IATF chairman.

He said that the DOH welcomes the private sector’s support and participation in aggressively expanding testing capacity in the country, as well as in efforts to ramp up isolation and treatment. 

“The success of our response, after all, rests in ensuring that testing, isolation and treatment go hand-in-hand,” said.

The Philippine National Red Cross has recently set up a new laboratory in Mandaluyong City, and is eyeing expansion in Batangas, Pampanga, Cebu, Negros, Zamboanga, Cagayan

de Oro and General Santos. 

These new laboratories will greatly accelerate the country’s testing capacity.

The DOH also said that those Groups interested in participating in Task Force T3 may contact DOH OIC-Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Singh-Vergeire at [email protected] and

IATF-NTF representative General Resty Padilla at [email protected]

Groups interested to make donations to this effort may contact Bill Luz at the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation at [email protected].

Image Credits: Nonie Reyes

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