By Dorothy Andrada
Published 2020 April 3 – From Special Issue on COVID-19
The numbers have made it clear: as of this writing, the Philippines has one of the highest mortality rates for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that our mortality rate at 7.80% is almost double that the global average of 4.09%. While this may seem like a cause for alarm, the numbers are only this high because we are reporting more deaths than positive cases, thus the need for mass testing. However, testing kits developed by the University of the Philippines (UP) are about to level the playing field.
On March 10, photos were posted on Facebook of the COVID-19 test kit developed by experts from the Philippine Genome Center (PGH) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of UP Manila. The GenAmplify Corona Virus Disease-2019 rRT PCR Detection Kit was developed after the university’s scientists studied the nature of the virus through the genome made available online by WHO.
Dr. Cynthia Palmes-Saloma, PGC Executive Director, explained that the kit was made possible through the use of Next Generation DNA Sequencing by scientists in other countries. This process allows for several DNA sequences to be processed at once, making the process significantly faster and more sensitive to genetic mutations. “If there’s an emergency and there’s a totally unknown organism, and some might say that it’s a virus, it’s bacteria, or it’s an unknown, then Next Generation Sequencing will come in handy,” she said.
However, mass testing will not push through yet. While the UP developed testing kits are much cheaper than the testing kits made abroad and have already been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Health has stated that they do not yet see the need for mass testing. Meanwhile, it has been found that undocumented cases are the source for 79% of the documented infections.
Other measures are also being taken to help contain the spread of COVID -19 in the country. Researchers from Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and Duke-National University of Singapore have collaborated on a study on the anti-viral properties of virgin coconut oil. ADMU has also partnered with the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development and the Department of Health to create the modeling app FASSSTER (Feasibility analysis of Syndromic Surveillance Using a Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler for Early Detection of Diseases), which will be used to predict the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak.
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