PRC-Iloilo’s COVID lab tested 22,005 specimen on first year

The Philippine Red Cross-Iloilo’s molecular laboratory in Passi City, Iloilo has tested 22,005 COVID-19 specimen a year after it was established. (Photo courtesy of Bob John Busayong)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) celebrated the first anniversary of its molecular laboratory in Passi City, Iloilo which has been key in testing specimens for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the city and province of Iloilo, last Wednesday, December 15, 2021.

The PRC Molecular Laboratory in Passi City, which tests majority of the samples the organization collects in Panay Island, has a negative pressure machine, a dirty receiving area, reagent room, pre-PCR room, PCR room, a swabbing booth, and swabbing area, which has led to proficiency testing.

PRC national Secretary-General Elizabeth Zavalla says the laboratory has not yet met the organization’s internal targets, having tested only 22,005 so far – 5,900 via swab testing and 16,105 via saliva-based testing.

The molecular laboratory has also earned the organization around P1 million in testing fees.

Zavalla added that there is room for improvement with PRC Passi’s new motorcycle units that will help collect specimen, even as she also encouraged other chapters in the region to collect swab and saliva samples.

“Since there are 18 [accredited COVID-19 testing] laboratories in the region, our share is only 1.64 percent, in the 11th place. There is huge room for improvement, and we wish to encourage other chapters to give [test samples] to Passi [City], and look for other people to get tested so that they could process specimens,” Zavalla said.

PRC Passi City chapter Board of Directors chairperson Dr. Jinky Palmares admitted that setting up and operating the molecular laboratory was a “challenge” they needed to hurdle.

Palmares thanked the support they got which enabled collaborations for the greater welfare of the community.

St. Paul’s Hospital, Iloilo Doctors Hospital, Medicus Medical Center, and Holy Mary Women and Children’s Hospital have been sending saliva specimens to the Passi laboratory for confirmatory COVID-19 testing.

“Our laboratory started with the aim of testing and identifying COVID-related cases in order to contain and control the spread [of the COVID-19] pandemic. It is not easy, but rather we hurdle the challenges in helping our Department of Health and our country,” Palmares said.

PRC national chairperson Senator Richard Gordon said that he was “happy” of what the Passi molecular laboratory, which also serves as their organization’s hub in Iloilo for other projects, had “bore fruit”.

Gordon thanked staff and volunteers for their effort, and also announced raising salaries for staff and retroactive payments for their Diamond Jubilee in April 15.

“The contributions of the [PRC] staff and volunteers are widespread, so be proud. Certainly in Panay Island, our activities are very strong, and you should be doing more tests. We shouldn’t be overconfident, and you have to continue to educate our public and have them tested,” said Gordon.

The senator also recalled the PRC’s history with Iloilo and Panay Island, having built almost 30,000 homes, with 8,000 in Ajuy, Balasan, and Lemery towns alone, and another 8,000 in Capiz. In addition, the PRC has also built homes, health centers, and schools in Aklan and Antique.

But Gordon had also warned the public to “slow down” with their activities given the emerging threat of the new Omicron (B.1.1.529) COVID variant.

“We look at it as a testing center but the Passi logistics center is a product of our vision and ably joined by [Passi City Vice] Mayor Jesry Palmares and [Dr.] Jinky [Palmares]. The other threat to us is the new Omicron variant. While the rest of the country seems to be getting out of the pandemic, we should slow down because there have been deaths in the UK and China (sic),” the senator added.

In his written message read during the event, Passi City Mayor Stephen Palmares said that when the PRC officially opened their laboratory in the city, the situation was “one of the toughest years [Passinhons] have ever encountered”.

Palmares lauded the PRC for helping the city government “to serve the people with the utmost care and sincerity”.

“The [PRC] molecular laboratory accommodates not only Passinhons but the entire people in the Province of Iloilo and Panay Island. With that, my heartfelt thanks for all the people behind the PRC for their hardwork. I salute all of you,” the mayor’s message read.

PRC data as of Dec. 15, 2021 indicated that they have conducted 5,063,897 COVID-19 tests since April 14, 2020, the most out of any area in the country.