A global shortage of cartridges used for COVID-19 testing has paralyzed the operation of the province’s lone RT-PCR GeneXpert laboratory at the Ospital ng Palawan (ONP), forcing the province to find other laboratories to conduct its tests.

This developed as pending swab tests in Coron continued to pile up following a recent surge in the number of confirmed cases in the town and the contact tracing efforts of local health authorities.

The regional office of the Department of Health also said they could no longer refer the specimens in Palawan to the San Lazaro Hospital and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) as the two main laboratories are also heavily backlogged.

“Ongoing coordination tayo with different laboratories to accommodate our specimens. Mukhang nag-refuse na muna itong dalawa (SLH and RITM) na ito dahil siguro sa dami ng specimens. Kaya may ibang labs tayong kinakausap,” said Geraldine Perez, health education and promotion officer of the regional office.

The distribution of cartridges used in the GeneExpert machines is centralized with the Department of Health, which also relies on a single supplier.

The international shortage of GeneXpert cartridges has affected the supplies not only of the ONP but of other GeneXpert laboratories in the country.

“Wala pang binibigay ang Central kasi [ang] availability ng international supply ang concern. Iisa lang kasi supplier ng cartridge na nagsu-supply sa iba’t-ibang user,” Perez told Palawan News.

On Monday, around 100 PCR test kits were sent to the Calamian Islands by the provincial government to boost the contact tracing after 15 individuals tested positive to the highly infectious disease. The case was categorized by the local authorities as “local transmission” which ballooned to at least 200 identified close contacts.

The local transmission case that originated in Coron town was indexed to an 82-year-old female who died on August 18.

Meanwhile, no new COVID-19 positive cases have been reported by the local governments of Puerto Princesa City and Palawan since Tuesday.