As part of its unrelenting efforts to combat the socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Gokongwei Group, joined a new consortium that aims to boost the national testing capacity.
The consortium was jointly mounted by key Philippine companies and is led by the Ayala Group through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Ayala Healthcare Holdings (AC Health). The group aims to assist the government in scaling-up the nationwide confirmatory testing capability to 50,000 tests per day by the end of June. The other members of the consortium are the Aboitiz Foundation, ABS-CBN Corporation, Alfonso Yuchengco Foundation, and Metrobank Foundation. The participating companies formalized their Memorandum of Agreement on June 16, 2020.
Together, the group pledges to build four Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) modular laboratories at Qualimed hospitals in key locations in the country. The project is in support of Project T3 (Test, Trace, Treat) of the Department of Health and the Inter-Agency Task Force, which seeks to increase the volume of reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing, the main methodology used to determine whether a person is infectious or infected by the COVID-19 virus.
Grace Colet, GBF’s executive director, said the foundation supports the government’s goal to ramp up the country’s testing capacity to help immediately curb COVID-19. “GBF has always valued collaborative efforts and synergies as key to ensuring maximum reach and impact. Especially now amid the public health crisis, we recognize the importance of working together and combining resources in order for us to respond quickly and effectively. We are honored to be part of this consortium whose goal, beyond merely increasing much needed testing capacity in the country, is oriented toward our nation’s rebuilding and recovery.”
At the onset of the pandemic’s outbreak, GBF created a P100 million COVID-19 relief fund to support national and local frontline health providers and communities where the Gokongwei Group’s business units operate. In addition, Colet said that GBF also participated in Project Ugnayan, a partnership between the country’s largest conglomerates with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, to help 1.5 million households in poor communities in the Greater Metro Manila area during the lockdown period with food items and other necessities.
A lab technician at The Medical City, one of the beneficiaries of the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation's COVID-19 relief fund. IMAGE The Medical City
“We at the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation continue to mobilize efforts for COVID-19. From our frontliner relief efforts to our contributions to Project Ugnayan, we believe that this partnership is a great addition to the work we are doing. Through this, we aim to support the government's request to help expand testing capacity in the country. We definitely see this as a priority,” said Lisa Y. Gokongwei Cheng, General Manager of GBF.
During a previous press conference, DOH OIC-Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire underscored the urgent need for more BSL-2 laboratories. “The COVID-19 virus is highly contagious. That is the reason why we need a Biosafety Level 2 facility, laboratory technologists trained on biosafety and PCR procedures, regularly calibrated equipment and instruments, and a well-established protocol on the quality assurance of test results, if we are to conduct tests,” she said in April.
According to Fernando Zobel de Ayala, AC Health chairman of the board, increasing the country’s confirmatory testing capacity is “no easy feat.” He also expressed his gratitude to have been able to form a consortium composed of friends from the private sector who are just as committed to battling this pandemic. He added that the challenges posed by these times highlight the importance of private sector working in collaboration with the government to ensure our country’s recovery.
Under the supervision of Dr. Edwin Mercado, president and CEO of Qualimed, the BSL-2 facilities will be set up at the Qualimed Health Network’s hospitals in Sta. Rosa, Laguna; San Jose del Monte, Bulacan; Tanauan, Batangas, and Iloilo City, Iloilo. Each lab, equipped with one automated RNA extractor and two RT-PCR machines, can perform 1,000 RT-PCR tests per day. Designed and built by Makati Development Corporation, the modular laboratories are expected to be accredited and operational by July 2020.
The Gokongwei Brothers Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Gokongwei Group. Its mission is to build the future through education. In March, GBF created a P100 million COVID-19 relief fund to support frontliners, hospitals, and government efforts to contain the virus by providing ventilators, COVID-19 testing equipment, RT-PCR test kits, PPE sets, and food packs and vouchers to hospitals, LGUs, and other vulnerable sectors. More than an emergency response, GBF's COVID-19 relief initiatives are an affirmation of its commitment to advancing STEM and supporting STEM professionals in the country.
This article was originally published on jgsummit.com.ph.