Since March 24, Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. (SPEX) has also been transporting swab samples for coronavirus disease (COVID) testing as requested by the Provincial Government thru the Palawan Provincial Health Office. There are no testing facilities for COVID-19 in Palawan.
SPEX operates the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power project, which fuels natural gas power plants that provide about 40% of Luzon’s power generation requirements.
When Luzon was declared under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) last March 17, air travel was suspended, requiring SPEX to seek the help of the Department of Energy and the local government of Puerto Princesa for an exemption so that Malampaya crew could travel from their homes in Manila to Puerto Princesa City, their jump-off point to the platform located 50 kilometers offshore northwest Palawan, and vice versa every two weeks.
This paved the way for the Palawan Provincial Health Office together with the Provincial Department of Health Office (PDOHO), which had been unable to send swab samples for COVID testing to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Manila with the suspension of commercial flights under the lockdown.
Palawan health officials sought the help of the Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc. (PSFI), which implements “Movement against Malaria,” a partnership between SPEX and the Department of Health to ensure the elimination of malaria in the Province.
PSFI, which had coordinated with SPEX to have its Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) kits for Malaria accommodated, readily saw to the Palawan Provincial Government’s request.
On March 24, the chartered flight for Malampaya crew also carried malaria RDTs, personal protective equipment (PPE) for Palawan health personnel that had been stranded in Manila under the lockdown and cancer medicine needed by a patient. That same day, the chartered flight was back in Manila with seven swab samples for COVID testing.
Tirso Lagrosa of DoH-MIMAROPA (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) is happy to report that all seven samples from persons under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19 came back negative. The work, however, continues. “We had one come in at the Ospital ng Palawan; we might have to take a sample and send it to Manila,” he says.
The chartered Malampaya flights have also carried free of charge, samples of blood for testing in Manila at the request of the Philippine Red Cross-Palawan. There are no facilities to test and clear donated blood in Palawan, which needs to build up its blood bank.
Other cargo that have been accommodated are PPEs and face masks for health frontliners as well as a set of reagents for bacteriology and test kits for other respiratory diseases.“We were down to three, four N95 face masks yesterday before the boxes came. Shell really saved us. Malaking tulong po sa amin (This really helps us), to help keep our frontliners safe. Thank you again po
and God bless,” says Joe Dapo, who works at the Infection Prevention department of Adventist Hospital in Puerto Princesa City.
Not only is Cardiologist Butch Gemarino grateful to PSFI for facilitating the donation of PPEs to Adventist Hospital as well as Palawan Baptist Hospital in Roxas, Palawan, he also hopes it will be sustained.
“We have a second batch of donations ready for transport,” he says. “We are again asking for your help kung puwede po namin ipasabay ang (to accommodate the) boxes of PPEs sa next trip ng Shell Foundation. Thanks po ng marami (a lot).”
Val Ventura of Victus Healthcare Corporation credits PSFI for facilitating the transport of test kits for other respiratory diseases such as influenza. He says Adventist Hospital needs the test kits to rule out other respiratory illnesses before getting patients tested for COVID-19.
PSFI with DOH–Palawan, make sure that in coordinating the accommodation of small cargo critical to COVID 19 service and testing, and those needed by Palawan health frontliners on SPEX-chartered flights, the guidelines on packaging and handling the samples, including social distancing and minimal contact are followed.
Health and Red Cross officials make sure that swab and blood samples are properly packed and sanitized for transport, with their counterparts in Manila ready to pick them up at the airport, and vice versa.