DOH assures readiness of RITM for Ebola Virus Disease

By Leilani S. Junio

MANILA, Oct. 21 (PNA) — The Department of Health (DOH) assured on Tuesday the readiness and capability of its Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in managing possible patients that may be detected with Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the event it enters the country.

The RITM. located in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, is the infectious and tropical diseases arm of the DOH. It provides updates on research and laboratory monitoring of infectious diseases in the country.

“Having managed previous global public health emergencies, the RITM has become better-equipped with rapid detection technology, laboratory, hospital facilities, and trained personnel in responding to the threat of new infectious disease agents,” Health Secretary Enrique Ona said.

The DOH chief recalled that previously, the RITM was in the forefront of global threats like the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) Coronavirus in 2003, the Pandemic Influenza H1N1 and Ebola-Reston in 2009 which tested its capacity or capability to manage and control those emerging diseases.

He cited that as part of the DOH’s preparation for the possible entry of EVD in the country, RITM has developed a triage system for suspected cases of EVD.

He said that the triage will be undertaken through patients’ screening and evaluation. The health staff of the RITM will conduct an interview and check the patients that will come to the RITM, particularly those suspecting that they are afflicted with EVD based on the symptoms and if they had direct contact with persons who came from EVD-infected countries.

The DOH chief also emphasized that infection control practices are in place.

“First-line health workers in the management of cases are being trained in the donning and removing of personal protective equipment (PPE),” he said, showing to the media how the PPE is being worn by the health workers in RITM.

He likewise cited the importance of wearing the PPEs properly so that contamination or spread of infection will be controlled in order not to pose risk on the part of the health workers who will be exposed to the fluids of EVD positive patients.

He said that the DOH at present has an adequate supply of PPE totaling to more than 2,000 in number and is ready to procure more in case there is a bigger demand for the equipment.

He also disclosed that RITM is upgrading DOH’s major laboratory hospitals from Biosafety Level (BSL) 2 to BSL 3 or 4 for the detection, treatment, and containment of potentially high-risk infectious agents.

The National Reference Center primarily uses molecular detection methods that ensure sensitive and rapid diagnosis.

In addition, its Special Pathogens Laboratory is capable of performing the currently recommended diagnostic tests for Ebola. Its hospital facility has eight negative-pressure isolation rooms, which prevent the spread of infectious agents from cases.

While Dr. Ona assured that RITM is ready for Ebola threat, he said that other existing facilities of DOH still need to be upgraded to be able to handle diseases like EVD.

He cited that as part of addressing that challenge, the health workers’ teams of the 17 regional hospitals, as well as the Philippine General Hospital, V. Luna Medical Center and Philippine National Police (PNP) Hospital, will be included in the batch of trainees in the forthcoming specialized training in handling and management of EVD.

“To bolster its preparations, RITM, in coordination with the DOH and the World Health Organization (WHO), is set to conduct a comprehensive three-day training course for healthcare professionals in the country,” he said.

He explained that the training course will include guidelines on infection prevention and control, clinical management and isolation, laboratory diagnosis, with demonstration and hands-on sessions.

The training for the medical community was prioritized after the National Summit on Ebola Virus Disease was held on Oct. 10 this year.

The upcoming training, starting on Oct. 28, will be done to ensure the readiness of health care workers in government and private hospitals for the potential entry of EVD.

According to WHO Country Representative to the Philippines Dr. Julie Hall, the training will highlight the strong platform of experience already present in the facilities of DOH, like the RITM, specially in the prevention and treatment of diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERSCoV) and H1N1.

“All health workers must adhere to the protocols provided to keep them and their patients safe. It is very important that the Philippines has designated centers of excellence such as RITM with specialist knowledge and facilities to manage the treatment of any suspected Ebola case,” Hall said during a press briefing held at the RITM. (PNA)