ADB-Funded Laboratory to Scale Up COVID-19 Testing in the Philippines

New Delhi: The Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH), with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), has set up a new laboratory in Pampanga province, north of the capital Manila. It will significantly increase the government’s testing capacity for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to 10,000 tests a day, up from the country’s current daily capacity of around 7,000 tests.

The Pandemic Sub-National Reference Laboratory at the Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital in San Fernando City is funded by a $3 million grant from ADB’s Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund, which was approved in March. COVID-19 testing at the hospital will begin on 10 May, with technicians completing weeks of training on biosafety and specimen collection and testing.

“This state-of-the-art facility is part of the government’s strategy to increase the number of laboratories across the country and significantly boost its COVID-19 testing capacity to flatten the pandemic curve and save lives,” said ADB Vice-President Ahmed M. Saeed. “In addition, ADB is working closely with the Department of Health to prepare a $125 million project to supplement this new laboratory and support the government’s response to the pandemic with additional testing kits and medical and personal protection equipment for hospitals nationwide.”

The laboratory has adequate staffing and is fully compliant with all regulatory requirements. DOH will organize the collection and transportation of COVID-19 samples from health facilities to the laboratory, as well as transmitting test results to the health facilities.

“Early detection and isolation of new COVID-19 cases is critical to managing potential outbreaks, especially as the government is considering gradually lifting quarantine measures. This makes testing all the more vital, and we are truly pleased with the Asian Development Bank’s support as we continue to work on strengthening the capacity of the country’s health care system to manage this pandemic,” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Most equipment for the laboratory and COVID-19 testing kits arrived in the Philippines in April, including a 22 April shipment via the Philippine Air Force. The equipment was sourced from the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), one of the world’s largest genomics companies serving more than 66 countries, which also offered technical support in setting up the laboratory and training of hospital staff.

Philippine pharmaceutical company Unilab Inc. assisted in retrofitting the hospital to meet biosafety standards. The laboratory, which will service health facilities in Central and Northern Luzon, is expected to continue to operate beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and support research on other pathogens, genetic diseases, and cancer. The facility can be used as a training facility for future laboratory technicians.

The laboratory is part of ADB’s overall support to the government’s comprehensive COVID-19 response programs. In March, ADB approved a $5 million grant to support the delivery of food supplies to at least 140,000 vulnerable households in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Last month, ADB approved a $1.5 billion loan for budget support to fund the government’s wage subsidy and social protection programs. An additional $200 million loan was approved in April to help finance the Philippines’ emergency cash transfers to poor households.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.