Officials of the University of the Philippines (UP) Mindanao and the local governments of Davao del Norte witnessed a milestone in their collaboration agreement with the turnover of a COVID-19 testing facility by the builder Maer Summit Konstrukt Company to the end-user Davao Regional Medical Center (DRMC) in ceremonies held on 27 August 2020, in the Davao del Norte Provincial Capitol in Tagum City. Mr. Dino Mae Suelto, the Managing Partner of Maer Summit Konstrukt, presented the certificate of turnover to DRMC chief Dr. Bryan Dalid in the presence of the project partners.
With the turnover, the local government leaders accomplished their joint resolution embodied in their letter of commitment of 17 April 2020 and the memorandum of agreement signed on 19 May 2020 to undertake the construction and establishment of the facility. Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib, Tagum City Mayor Allan Rellon, Samal City Mayor Al David Uy, and Panabo City Mayor Jose Relampagos authorized funds from their respective shares from the Bayanihan “We Heal As One” Act for the construction of the facility.
UP Mindanao Chancellor Larry Digal, a co-signatory in the project agreement, and Associate Professor Lyre Anni Murao, author of the project proposal and director of the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) Mindanao, witnessed the turnover following their inspection of the newly-completed facility located in the DRMC in Tagum City.
“This is a good example of a private sector-government-academe partnership that contributed to addressing the huge challenge mounted by this pandemic,” said Chancellor Digal. “It started with the private sector group Maer Summit Konstrukt who approached us for this project, led by Mr. Suelto, an alumnus of the UP School of Economics, and his son, who was my student in Agribusiness Economics. They donated a PCR machine and testing kits and they linked us to the Davao del Norte LGU - to the governor and the three mayors. So the partnership was hatched,” he said.
Governor Jubahib welcomed the turnover of the project and thanked the three mayors for their cooperation in raising the required funds. “Hinintay natin matapos itong COVID-19 testing facility dito sa Davao del Norte dahil sa shortage ng lab testing at marami na ang may sakit. The problem, I learned from Dr. Dalid, was the required budget of P12 million. No problem, I said, because there are the three ‘mababait’ na mayors,” he said.
"This project is the first of the groups we assisted in setting up their COVID-19 testing facility,” said Chancellor Digal. “We provided mainly technical support in terms of trainings and design of the laboratory,” he said.
UP Mindanao contributed to the design of the facility, in accordance with the approved design of the Department of Health (DOH) and provided the DRMC personnel with training on molecular diagnostics and biosafety for highly infectious human pathogens. UP Mindanao will also continue to provide technical assistance and consultancy services for issues that may arise during the regular operations of the facility.
The DRMC will take over the daily operation and maintenance of the facility and DRMC Chief Dr. Bryan Dalid projected that the facility can begin its operation by September 2020. “I do not wish to frighten you all but this pandemic may take longer because the number of cases is still rising. The good thing is that mortality is low. That is our only consolation,” he said.
“This project is welcomed by the Department of Health,” said Chancellor Digal, “based on our discussion with them at the outset, because it will supplement the capacity of the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) to better serve the other provinces in Davao Region, and even outside the region.”
UP Mindanao also offered its training expertise to the personnel of the Davao de Oro Provincial Government and the Police Regional Office-XI which are constructing their own COVID-19 testing facilities.
The expertise for the trainings, facility design, and technical assistance are provided by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) Mindanao, a satellite facility in UP Mindanao of the Philippine Genome Center based in UP Diliman. Since the start of the COVID-19 emergency, PGC Mindanao crafted a mission to capacitate hospitals to conduct COVID-19 testing by training their personnel on SARS-CoV-2 reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), the most effective testing system currently available to counter COVID-19. PGC Mindanao was appointed by the DOH as a trainer for Mindanao and, since April 2020, has trained 45 frontliners from six medical centers in Mindanao and also contributed to the successful accreditation of four of these centers for COVID-19 testing.
The COVID-19 facilities in DRMC and elsewhere can also be used beyond the present pandemic for other relevant purposes such as infectious disease surveillance and collaborative research, also through the PGC Mindanao.
According to PGC Mindanao Director Lyre Murao, “COVID-19 has been a wake-up call to the lingering but neglected issues on environment and agriculture. This pandemic is a timely opportunity for us to reboot our framework and act with resolve for sustainable and resilient ecosystems and communities. The Philippine Genome Center Mindanao can help Mindanao through ‘omics,’ the study of molecules in disease, health, food, and agriculture. Omics can be used for the advancement of knowledge, innovations, and policies towards a more sustainable utilization and management of resources in the post-pandemic age.”