THE Department of Health (DOH)-Davao said the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC) will only be able to process 75 specimens per week or 300 per month for whole-genome sequencing due to the center’s limited storage facility.
Rachel Joy Pasion, DOH-Davao Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Unit head, said during the DOH-Davao virtual presser on Monday, October 5, that while they are continuously sending specimens for whole-genome sequencing, there is a significant decrease of specimens being processed for possible infection with the variant of concern (VOC).
Pasion said they had to “make a shift” when it comes to the specimens they send at UP-PGC.
“Not like in the past, pwede po kami magsubmit ng hundred plus na specimens, but right now, nalimitahan kami ng 75,” the official said during the DOH-Davao virtual presser.
“There is really a discrepancy or pagbaba,” she added.
She said DOH-Davao sends specimens weekly every Thursday. However, UP-PGC suspended the processing of specimens as they are currently crafting the guidelines.
“Mas strikto ang UP-PGC para hindi masayang yung mga specimen na napapadala natin or hindi po nila ma-read yung mga specimen na napapadala natin (They are implementing stricter guidelines so the specinmens will not go to waste),” Pasion said.
Due to the limitations in WGS, 3,153 specimens from the region are pending results.
The official said the specimen to be sent must pass the “epidemiologic criteria.” These include the specimen must belong to a clustering of cases, the patient must be in a severe and critical state, has a history of travel (returning overseas Filipino or locally stranded individuals), and must be an active case.
Despite the limitation of the specimens being sent for whole-genome sequencing, Pasion said this had given them the opportunity to further screen the specimens, which could help them identify or map out the clustering of Covid-19 transmission or a certain community or locality, and assess if this has in relation with the detection of the VOCs.
“Kahit limited na ‘yung samples na mapapadala natin, but at the same time, sinastrategize natin na maka-capture through the epidemiologic criteria kung sino ang i-prio na isubmit sa UP-PGC (Though we are only sending limited amounts of samples, we were still able to strategize, based on the epidemiologic criteria, as to whose specimen will be prioritized),” the DOH official said.
She said the regional epidemiological surveillance unit (Resu) is the one that screens the specimens to be sent for WGS. Although she said the local government units can also make recommendations.
Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Monday, October 4, that UP-PGC targets to double its capacity to conduct whole genome sequencing on coronavirus-positive samples within October 2021, and operationalize its satellite laboratories in the Visayas and Mindanao beginning November 2021.
Vergeire said training teams from the PGC satellite laboratories located in the UP Visayas and UP Mindanao are scheduled to arrive in Manila this week to complete their training on whole-genome sequencing of coronavirus-positive samples.
But Pasion said the region is still reliant on the main PGC despite the establishment of satellite laboratories in the country.
As of October 2, DOH-Davao reported that the region has detected a total of 591 VOC-positive specimens, wherein Beta is the dominant variant with 322, followed by Alpha with 142, and 127 specimens tested with the highly infectious Delta variant.
Meanwhile, Pasion clarified that the decrease of specimens being tested is not a factor of the decreasing cases in the region.
While she said the region’s daily positive rate has lowered down to an average of 22 percent, this is still higher compared to the five percent threshold set by the World Health Organization to determine that the Covid-19 cases in a certain locality are manageable.