San Miguel donation to double PH COVID testing capacity

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Ramon Ang with RITM Chief Celia Carlos (L) and DOH Usec. Myrna Cabotaje (R) | Photo from San Miguel Corporation

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 29) — The Philippines will be doubling its daily coronavirus testing capacity, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Wednesday, after conglomerate San Miguel Corporation donated machines and kits to help in the government’s bid for wider testing.

Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) Director Celia Carlos says that with the donation Philippine labs will be able to carry out 9,500 tests per day from just 4,500 before.

In a ceremony at its headquarters in Mandaluyong, San Miguel turned over to the DOH five sets of coronavirus testing machines – each consisting of two reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rtPCR) machines and one automated ribonucleic acid (RNA) extraction machine.

Combined, the machines are capable of 5,000 to 10,000 COVID-19 tests per day. The DOH takes a conservative stance for now, putting the number at the low end of the range.

Philippine labs will see that doubling in testing capacity by next week, when all machines are up, health officials said.

San Miguel has also donated 20,000 testing kits.

“It comes as a complete set. It comes with the swabbing. Eto yung pangkuha ng sample. It comes with the transport UTM, universal transport media. It comes with the enzyme. Kumpleto na,” Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje told CNN Philippines.

“It will be faster because of the automation. So that is why we appreciate the donation,” she added.

San Miguel President and Chief Operating Officer Ramon Ang is rallying his friends from the business sector to help the country’s main public health institution buy more testing kits to sustain the latter’s expanded COVID-19 testing.

The government goal is 28,000 tests per day spread across all its registered laboratories nationwide.

A total of 89,000 tests have been carried out since testing began, RITM’s Carlos said, nearly a tenth of that were confirmed COVID-19 positive.

The Philippines has an estimated 109.9 million population based on data from its key statistics agency.

Apart from the lack of testing machines, the government faces challenges in securing a stable supply of test kits since its stock currently is good for 90 days, Carlos said. To complete the testing process, Philippine labs need both machines and test kits.

“I’m calling on all our friends to put together a fund so that we can buy all the kits to support the supplies to DOH so that they can continuously be able to process 20,000 patients a day,” San Miguel’s Ang said.

“Eh yung DOH, 'di ba ilang bilyon 'yung budget nila pambili niyan, kung makakabili sila at kung meron silang pambili kaagad. Kung wala, tutulong pa rin kami,” he added.

This tranche of San Miguel’s donation is valued at P53 million, adding to the truckloads of alcohol, flour, and poultry products it earlier distributed to local governments.

Ang earlier donated his own money – P100 million – to the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the deadly virus.