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DOH urged to help private hospitals get access to Zika virus testing kits

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The Department of Health (DOH) should help private hospitals get access to kits for testing Zika virus, which are running short worldwide, Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian has asked.

Gatchalian made the request as Health Secretary Janette Garin earlier this week said that only 1,000 kits are at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and that they are not commercially available.

“As the test kits for the Zika virus cannot be easily purchased, the DOH can help private hospitals look for other sources of kits,” said Gatchalian, a majority member of the House committee on foreign affairs.

“This way, more hospitals will be equipped to handle possible cases and allay the public’s fears that the country is underprepared in case the virus spreads here,” added Gatchalian.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows 28 countries and territories worldwide have active Zika virus transmission. However, this does not include the United States’ first case of virus transmission in Texas which was likely contracted through sexual contact.

The Zika virus has been linked to severe birth defects in babies in Brazil and is thought to be spread through mosquitoes of the Aedes genus.

Since October, around 3,500 babies have been born with microcephaly, which is a condition where a baby is born with a smaller head and may suffer physical and learning disabilities according to the WHO.

Garin said the current supply cannot be used to test just anyone as there is already a lack of kits worldwide and only research centers, like the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, have such. The said supply was only a surplus when such kits were delivered to the government in 2012. However, another batch of 1,000 test kits is expected to be delivered in two weeks.

“We do not like to create panic or overreact because we would like to target our resources where it is necessary,” Garin was quoted by media as saying.

Gatchalian said the DOH can look into the possibility of sourcing such kits from Brazil, whose health ministry has reportedly developed new testing kits, and from Germany, where firm Genekan Biotechnology AG has also developed a test that determines if there are Zika pathogens in a blood sample.

The NPC senatorial bet also suggested that the DOH launch an extensive information campaign on the Zika virus and how to prevent it from spreading to allay fears among the public.

“The Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention has started informing people traveling to Zika-hit regions about the virus though text. Nothing should stop the DOH from creating a similar information campaign,” said Gatchalian, a member of Nationalist People’s Coalition.

The Philippines is currently free of Zika but had a case in 2012, when a 15-year-old boy in Cebu tested positive for the virus and got negative results for dengue and Chikungunya. He had a full recovery after three weeks of medication and bed rest, said in reports. (Monica Cantilero)