DOH hit for alleged failure to protect RITM health workers as 43 employees test positive for COVID-19

April 21, 2020 - 2:29 PM
Senior nurse anesthesiologist Nilu Patel participates in a candlelight vigil at her shift change at UC Irvine Medical Center over the need for more N95 respirators and protective gear during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Irvine, California, U.S., April 20, 2020. (Reuters/Mike Blake)

Concerns on the Department of Health’s accountability were raised after the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine reported that more than 40 of its staff have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

RITM Director Celia Carlos announced on Monday night that 43 of its employees have acquired COVID-19, which resulted in the scaling down of their operations.  

Hindi naman po sila severely ill. ‘Yung iba po mildly sick so naka quarantine lang po sila dito sa aming dormitory facility. ‘Yung iba po medyo serious ang symptoms, hindi naman po very serious, sa hospital sila naka admit,” Carlos said in an interview aired on CNN Philippines.  

She’s uncertain if the employees got infected within the RITM premises or the patients have acquired the disease from their respective communities.  

Tony Leachon, the special adviser of the government task force against COVID-19, previously posted an advisory that the RITM’s facilities would undergo decontamination procedures for the safety of its staff from April 18 to April 24.  

“To prevent delays in testing and releasing results, RITM shall be referring currently received specimens to activated subnational laboratories and COVID-19 partner laboratories,” the advisory said. 

RITM to scale down its operations in consideration of the safety of RITM staff responding to COVID 19 Public Health Emergency beginning April 16 to April 24, 2020. Let’s pray for our healthcare workers.

Posted by Dr. Tony Leachon on Friday, April 17, 2020


Reports said that because of the reduced manpower, around 5,000 specimens are pending COVID-19 confirmation in RITM laboratories. The RITM also said it has already coordinated with different government agencies regarding its woes.

As of April 19, the DOH said that the country has a total of 17 licensed laboratories nationwide that are “capable of conducting Real-Time RT-PCR for COVID-19. 

“DOH continues to strengthen the testing capabilities of different laboratories across the country,” the agency said.  


As of April 19, 2020 we have 17 Licensed Laboratories in the country that are capable of conducting Real-Time RT-PCR for…

Posted by Department of Health (Philippines) on Sunday, April 19, 2020

What DOH could have done

However, with the rising calls for a large-scale testing of suspected COVID-19 cases in the country, several Filipinos said that the health agency should have accredited more testing facilities.  

Lawyer Emil Marañon III described the DOH’s policy on centralized testing as a “disaster waiting to happen.” 

DOH’s stubborn policy of over-centralizing testing to RITM is a disaster waiting to happen. One mass infection like this and the whole testing scheme crumbles,” he said on Twitter. 

“It cannot be overemphasized that DOH should have aggressively decentralized testings as early as it can be done,” he added.  

Twitter user @rupertnotholmes also said that DOH should be held accountable for failing to protect the front liners at RITM.  

This one’s on DOH. For weeks, it sat on the application of 63 testing centers that could have saved more lives and protected their very own frontliners at RITM,” the user wrote 

This was echoed by other online users who criticized the DOH for its supposed shortcomings on protecting the RITM employees and for allegedly letting them be overworked.

The keyword “RITM” made it to the top trending list on local Twitter on Tuesday following the news on its COVID-19 positive employees.

The World Health Organization previously called on all countries to ramp up their testing programs to fight the pandemic. 

“All countries should be able to test all suspected cases, they cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. 

The Philippines only began “progressive” COVID-19 detection of the new pathogen on April 14, which is nearly a month after the enhanced community quarantine was imposed, and prioritized high-risk patients  part of its recently expanded testing protocol.  

Long road of accreditation 

Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro previously bared DOH’s arduous process in granting licenses to testing centers after he made a bold move to open the city’s own facility sans the health agency’s approval. This move earned praises online for his fervor to help his constituents during the pandemic.   

However, Health Undersecretary and spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire defended the disapproval, noting that upon inspection, it has no equipment installed and laboratory technicians have yet to undergo training that time. 

The DOH earlier issued its five-step accreditation process, namely, self-assessment, self-validation, personal training, proficiency testing and full-scale implementation.  

This long process is to ensure the safety and quality of the detection procedures conducted in the licensed laboratories, according to its administrative order issued last April 7.  

These guidelines are being issued to set the standards in licensing COVID-19 testing laboratories as a strategy to expand testing capacity, to have more capable laboratories, and at the same time ensuring that quality and safety are maintained,” the health department said 

The RITM also released a short video clip on Facebook on the importance of making sure that a licensed laboratory follows the global standards set by the WHO.  

RITM follows global standards in laboratory practices to deliver quality and reliable COVID-19 test results. For hospitals and laboratory facilities that are planning to set up testing labs for COVID-19, here are the things you must consider:Video by PhilCare TeamERRATUM: RITM COVID-19 hotlines are (02) 8807 26 28 to 32/37 local 297/440/441

Posted by Research Institute for Tropical Medicine on Thursday, April 16, 2020