COVID-19 testing strengthens the relationship between Canada and the Philippines

By Aldis Brennan, Canadian Red Cross
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as information began to flow into Canada about how serious this disease might become, Alberta Health Services started ramping up their testing capacity. Some 10,000 kilometres away in Southeast Asia, the Philippine Red Cross took notice.
“The Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross had heard through the media that Alberta had the fastest results processing for COVID-19 testing,” Kianna Dewart, Program Coordinator, Epidemic Prevention and Control with the Canadian Red Cross says. “They were setting up their own molecular lab and testing facilities and he thought there was an opportunity for some knowledge sharing.”
The Philippine Red Cross plays a major role in the country’s healthcare system so when COVID-19 hit they were asked to take on testing for the virus and the sharing of results. When they reached out to the Canadian Red Cross, they were building their 13th lab and looked at it as an opportunity to improve their processThe molecular lab built with support from the Canadian Red Cross as well as testing equipment

The molecular lab built with support from the Canadian Red Cross as well as testing equipment

Kianna connected two Philippine Red Cross volunteers studying in British Columbia with technical experts from the Canadian Red Cross Global Health Unit, and Jenn McManus, Vice President, Alberta and Northwest Territories.
Through two virtual sessions the volunteers were shown how the internal infrastructure, instrumentation, lab setup, and workflow aligned with the public process of booking an appointment, getting a test, and receiving the results digitally. They were able to see the effectiveness of saliva testing — being both quicker and half as expensive as nasal swabs — and took that learning back to their colleagues at home.
“You don’t always realize that your work in Canada is actually as important in the footprint of our global response and our expertise,” Jenn explains. “Our relationship with Alberta Health Services was so phenomenal that when we got the ask from the Philippine Red Cross, it was an automatic, ‘Of course, we’ll try to make this happen.’”
A few weeks later, the Philippine Red Cross volunteers had another tour, this time in British Columbia and in-person, accompanied by Pat Quealey, Vice President, BC and Yukon.
 Two men standing in front of a large sign with text: Philippine Red Cross Molecular Laboratory

Our Philippines Country Representative Mladen Milicevic at the dedication ceremony for the newly opened molecular lab

“I thought it was a really good exposure to the process and some of the equipment that was either consistent or new for our Philippine colleagues,” says Pat. “There were a lot of similarities I think in terms of the epidemiological testing and the techniques, but the setup, the process and some of the innovations that have been done by the BC CDC were helpful based on how our colleagues responded.”
One of the most valuable things the volunteers learned was the variety of testing equipment available and how they compare to each other. The Philippines Red Cross couldn’t purchase many different kinds of equipment, so having the opportunity to see what each could do allowed them to make better decisions about which to invest in going forward.
“The other aspect which they were exposed to was the contact tracing team,” Pat notes. “That was interesting because after that visit we did some follow-up with the BC CDC, and they took us up on an offer to provide some support to their contract tracing in terms of best practices for call centres as well as some of the methodologies we had practiced elsewhere in Canada.”
There is a longstanding partnership between the Canadian Red Cross and Philippine Red Cross going back to the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The Canadian Red Cross sent a field hospital to the Philippines, assisting over one million people, and providing training to ensure that local staff could use the hospital again in future emergencies. Now the Canadian Red Cross is working with the Philippine Red Cross on a five-year health development project in areas with the least access to healthcare services.

“It was good to see that connection and heartening to see that materialize here in Canada whereas we normally have our international experiences when we go abroad,” says Pat. “It was great to see folks learn about us in our home territory.”

Since it began conducting tests for COVID-19, the Philippine Red Cross has tested more than three million specimens for COVID-19 in its 13 molecular laboratories – accounting for more than 25 per cent of the total tests conducted in the country.
Canadian Red Cross provided a financial donation to Philippine Red Cross for the procurement of the testing equipment and extractor for the Passi Molecular Laboratory which can be used to detect tuberculosis, dengue, malaria, hepatitis, zika, HIV, in addition to COVID-19.
As a deadly second wave of COVID-19 surges in many parts of South Asia, including the Philippines, partnerships like these are needed more than ever. You can support our Global COVID-19 Appeal.

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