Self-reliance needed in country’s response to COVID-19

| Written by Padayon UP

Screenshot of Dr. Charlotte Chiong in “COVID-19 and the Heart”, with replay on TVUP’s YouTube channel.


UP Manila (UPM) College of Medicine (UPCM) Dean Charlotte Chiong said, “We need to be self-reliant in testing, prevention, and treatment.” This was her statement after being asked by PhilHealth Board Director Susan Mercado to comment on the country’s independence in the fight against COVID-19.

Chiong was a guest speaker in the eighth installment of UP’s STOP COVID DEATHS webinar series, “COVID-19 and the Heart,” of which Mercado was a co-host, along with UP Manila National Telehealth Center (NTHC) Director Raymond Sarmiento. The episode was streamed live on June 12, the 122nd anniversary of Philippine Independence.


Screenshot of Dr. Charlotte Chiong in “COVID-19 and the Heart”, with replay on TVUP’s YouTube channel.


Chiong said that the University started developing RT-PCR test kits as soon as the genetic sequence of the virus was made available. The effort was led by Dr. Raul Destura. While the country had to order test kits from abroad and initially had the tests done abroad as well, the locally made kits were undergoing validation in the laboratory as a requirement for in-country use.

The capacity to test for COVID-19 was also strengthened within the University. In UPM alone, there are two accredited testing laboratories: the UP Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) Medical Research Laboratory and the UP National Institutes of Health, where the test kits were developed. Chiong added that they are expecting the arrival of two automated RT-PCR machines in July.

As for disease prevention, different research groups in UP are looking into the creation of a vaccine. It is hoped that a center for vaccine research and development would emerge from the initiatives in this pandemic. Chiong admitted that such a project is ambitious. “Can we afford it? Or do we just focus on clinical trials?”

In the treatment of COVID-19, Chiong revealed that while UP-PGH, which was designated as a COVID-19 referral hospital in March, is part of the World Health Organization (WHO) Solidarity clinical trial, it still validates all information and protocols handed by WHO. Chiong said, “The WHO protocols that we followed hook, line, and sinker turned out to be inapplicable to us, like we don’t need ventilators as much because high flow of oxygen can work.”

In the course of their COVID-19 management experience, some realizations were made, such as that convalescent plasma therapy must be given earlier than usual, and that some prophylactic antibiotics are not effective. “What treatment is applicable to the Filipino? Our reactions to certain medications may be different,” she said.

Innovation was and remains a key factor in dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 management, Chiong emphasized. With the help of the UP Diliman (UPD) College of Engineering (CoE), face shields were being produced for UP-PGH workers. The UPCM Surgical Innovations and Biotechnology Laboratory developed telepresence monitors to help patients connect virtually to their families.

The RxBox, a telemedicine device developed by the NTHC, UPD Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute, and UPD National Institute of Physics, was repurposed to become telemetry stations for UP-PGH patients. Classrooms were converted to convalescent plasma therapy centers, so that plasma donors are kept away [Ed: outside the hospital building?] from the hospital building. UPCM and UPD CoE have also embarked on the development of SANI-POD, a self-contained cubicle for sanitation of health frontline workers. Four locally made ventilators were also in the process of safety validation.

Research also plays a significant role in improving the management of present and future diseases. Chiong said studies on the effect of virgin coconut oil on COVID-19 patients and on the validity of antibody rapid test kits, for example, are being undertaken, with numerous others awaiting research funding.

“During World War II, UP-PGH was the only University unit operating. We look at [the] COVID-19 [pandemic] as a war. . . . We’re one with the Filipino [people]. When we were called to serve, we said yes.”

Watch “COVID-19 and the Heart” in full here.

The UP webinar series “STOP COVID DEATHS: Clinical Management Updates” is scheduled every Friday from 12nn to 2pm. The webinar on “Rehabilitation for Critical Care Survivors of COVID-19”, with Dr. Celso F. Bate, physiatrist of The Medical City and VRP Medical Center, is set for Friday, July 3. Registration slots are limited, so sign up NOW:


(This was originally posted on the UP System website on June 30, 2020)