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Unused DOH monies eyed to fund genome sequence

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The Department of Health (DOH) may tap its P7 billion in unutilized funds to source the additional P362-million budget that it needs for genome sequencing to detect possible new Covid-19 variants, the Department of Budget and Management said on Thursday.

According to Budget Secretary Wendel E. Avisado, DOH has the “available funds” for this purpose. “They can easily charge to their unutilized funds of P7 billion,” Avisado told the BusinessMirror in a message.

The budget chief gave that reply after DOH asked for an additional budget of P362 million from DBM to sustain the one-year processing for genome sequencing to detect the possible new Covid-19 variants in the country—an expense that had not been factored into earlier estimates on the Covid response’s fiscal requirements.

Budget Assistant Secretary and spokesman Rolando Toledo also clarified to the BusinessMirror that these unutilized funds mentioned by Avisado refer to the “balance or unobligated allotment of the DOH from the releases made under Bayanihan to Recover as One Act [Bayanihan 2] which was released in 2020.”

Cabinet approval

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the DOH’s fund proposal was approved during the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening.

The fund will be used so that not only the Philippine Genome Center, but also the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) could conduct genome sequencing of Covid-19 samples.

“A P362 million [fund] will be allocated for the said initiative,” Nograles said.

The government is currently wary of the entry of the new more infectious variants of the Covid-19 from entering the country.

“With different strains and variants of the Covid-19 virus now emerging, the Department of Health will be mobilizing resources and investing in genomic bio surveillance which will strengthen and improve our overall Covid-19 response,” Nograles said.

He noted genomic sequencing results will allow the DOH  to track “the evolution of the virus across geographical and time scales, as well as the impact of the specific mutations on viral properties, including infectiousness and virulence.”

Reagents issue

Health Undersecretary Maria  Rosario Vergeire earlier said they encountered problems in running the samples to detect the more transmissible variant or the United Kingdom’s B117 variant due to the delay in the delivery and the “global shortage” of sequencing reagents.

To avoid the same problem in the future, Vergeire also earlier said they will purchase in advance at least six months’ supply needed for the genome sequencing. The DOH usually orders two to three months’ supply of reagents.

Due to the lack of reagents, the Philippine Genome Center has decided to shut down the big machine and use its small machine last week. The small machine can only process about 48 samples per week, while the big one can run 750 samples per week.

The country has so far recorded 17 cases of the UK variant.

As of Wednesday, the total tally of Covid-19 cases in the Philippines has reached 530,118 after 1,266 more infections were recorded.

The nationwide death toll due to Covid-19 has also risen to 10,942, while 487,721 people have recovered from the disease.

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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