PH joins race for virus cure

Lab tests begin on 4 drugs under WHO’s Solidarity Trial

The Philippines will join more than 45 countries that will hold clinical trials to test four different drugs or combinations of drugs in search of a treatment for the deadly COVID-19, which has infected 3,018 and killed 136 people in the country, the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday.

One of the proposed quarantine areas at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium in Manila gets a makeover to fit the requirements of the Department of Health led by Secretary Francisco Duque III. DOH
The department reported the biggest single-day increase in COVID-19 fatalities and confirmed 385 new cases Friday.

Health officials said they expect an even sharper spike in the number of cases as mass testing is set to begin April 14.

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To date, they said, 52 people have recovered from the disease.

Full-scale testing began in eight laboratories nationwide Thursday, and 66 other laboratories are being prepared to handle more tests.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the World Health Organization (WHO) clinical trial—dubbed the Solidarity Trial—is a global search for drugs that can treat COVID-19, which has infected more than 1 million people and killed more than 50,000 people worldwide.

As deaths continue to mount, WHO and its member countries have been rushing clinical trials in the hopes of finding an off-label drug that can treat the new strain of coronavirus.

More than 45 countries have announced their participation in the Solidarity Trial, the WHO said and more have expressed interest in joining.

The 112-bed quarantine area will be manned by the AFP medical corps and be made operational next week. Two other ‘instant hospitals’ are being built at the Philippine International Convention Center and World Trade Center. Norman Cruz
The clinical trials will test four different drugs or combinations of them. Among the drugs that will be included in the trial are remdesivir, lopinavir and ritonavir combined, two drugs plus interferon beta, and 4) chloroquine.

Remdesivir has been used to treat Ebola virus while ritonavir/lopinavir is used for HIV infections. Interferon-beta is a molecule used to regulate inflammation in the body while chloroquine is used to treat malaria.

Their effectiveness will be compared to what is called standard of care — the regular support hospitals treating COVID-19 patients use now.

The first batch of patients has already been enrolled in the program.

Duque said Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases President Dr. Marissa Alejandria will be representing the Philippines while Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire will be serving as the DOH liaison for WHO.

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) on Wednesday said that it will be conducting tests on virgin coconut oil (VCO) and how it can be used as treatment for COVID-19.,”

DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said the research on VCO is planned to have two arms: one hospital-based and one community-based.

He said the hospital-based study, entitled “Virgin Coconut Oil and Omega-3a Adjunctive Therapy for Hospitalized Patients with COVID-19,” will be conducted at the Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) by the team of Dr. Marissa Alejandria.

“The VCO will serve as a supplement to the daily treatment regimen of the COVID-19 positive patients,” De la Peña said. “The study aims to assess the possible benefits of VCO if given to patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 in addition to the drugs being assessed in the clinical trials.”

De la Peña said the study may last for at least one month or until they reach the minimum number of patients required.

Also participating in the study are the UP-PGH Clinical COVID-19 Research Group and the Metro Manila Health Research and Development Consortium of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST PCHRD).

He said another study will be led by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute at quarantine facilities in Metro Manila and Calabarzon with the help of DOST CALABARZON and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

In these tests, coconut oil will be incorporated in the food provided to patients under investigation for COVID-19.

“The study aims to assess the possible benefits provided by VCO for patients with COVID-19 as well as contacts and other high-risk groups,” De la Peña said. “The project team is planning to conduct the same to their previous intervention studies and the dietary supplementation may possibly run for at least four weeks.”

There is no vaccine or cure yet for the new strain of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) assured the public that it will shoulder the full cost of treatment of COVID-19 cases until April 14, 2020.

In its advisory addressed to all accredited hospitals and health facilities in the country, PhilHealth clarified that after April 14, it would provide financial coverage to COVID cases through a recomputed case rate.

“The reason for this accommodation window is due to the novelty and the wide range of severity of the disease in the country for which no existing case rate or package based on accepted protocols has yet been established,” the agency said.

PhilHealth said it was confident that by April 14, more about the behavior of the disease in the Philippines can be learned, a final protocol will be established, and an appropriate case rate can be developed.

Under the newly passed Bayanihan Act, all health workers will be covered even beyond the April 14 2020 cut-off date for all work and COViD-19-related health services. This will also include all other personnel necessary for the operation of a health facility.

The chief implementer of the National Action Plan against COVID-19 said Thursday night the government would speed up accreditation of subnational laboratories so mass testing of persons suspected of having COVID-19 could begin soon.

“We expect that by April 14, we should be able to start mass testing,” said Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., presidential peace adviser.

Aside from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, hospitals that have been accredited so far for COVID-19 testing are the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, San Lazaro Hospital, Western Visayas Medical Center, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, Southern Philippines Medical Center and the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health.

The government is also in the process of converting the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, World Trade Center, Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, and the Philippine International Convention Center into quarantine facilities.

Senators said Friday the plan for mass testing would save more lives.

Senate President Ralph Recto said mass testing is essential. For those who will test positive, he said the government must have facilities to isolate and care for them. He said this will reduce the transmission rate of the disease and will save more lives.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, too, emphasized the importance of mass testing for people with symptoms, saying this would identify those infected so they can be isolated to prevent the spread of infection.

Vergeire said persons who test positive for COVID-19 will be brought to community quarantine facility.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said she believed the country has a better chance of defeating COVID-19 and protecting lives, once mass testing begins.

The government recently announced that the DOH has received 108,000 testing kits from South Korea, China and Singapore.

In related developments:

* The Philippine General Hospital has called on COVID-19 survivors to donate blood for experimental treatment for patients with severe symptoms of the disease. A hospital spokesman said convalescent plasma therapy would entail transfusions of blood from survivors, which should contain antibodies against the disease. PGH said recovered patients can contact Dr. Sandy Maganito at 0917-8053207.

* COVID-19 claimed the life of a second policeman, the Philippine National Police Health Service reported Friday. Both patients were in their 40s.

* A total of 371 seafarers from United States and Spain have been repatriated to Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Friday. Of the latest batch of Filipino repatriates, 248 were crew members of a cruise ship from Miami, while 123 of them came from Spain. The Bureau of Quarantine performed the mandatory medical inspection before the repatriated seafarers were allowed to disembark and head to a quarantine facility, the DFA said.

* Quezon City on Friday reported 464 confirmed cases of COVID-19. In its official Viber account, the city government said the spike in the number of cases came after the city health department gained access to the Department of Health database of cases, and verified which of them were residents of Quezon City. Barangay Batasan Hills has the highest number of COVID-19 cases at 14, followed by barangays Culiat and Tandang Sora at 12 cases, Old Balara at 13 cases and barangays Pasong Tamo and Bagong Lipunan ng Crame at 10 cases.

* A Mindanao lawmaker on Friday urged the DOH to immediately designate more COVID-19 testing laboratories in their region. At the same time, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City’s Second District appealed to the DOH to send test kits to designated testing facilities. At present, he said only the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City has been designated as a testing laboratory. He added that while the Northern Mindanao Medical Center in Cagayan de Oro has been selected as a COVID-19 referral center, no laboratory testing has been done there, and it has no testing kits. “The swab samples are still sent to Davao City, causing much delay,” Rodriguez said. With Francisco Tuyay, Rey E. Requejo, Rio N. Araja, and Maricel V. Cruz

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Topics: COVID-19 , coronavirus , Department of Health , Enhanced Community Quarantine , Department of Science and Technology , Francisco Duque III
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