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UP-MSI researchers push for wastewater-based COVID-19 monitoring after Davao study 

WBE laboratory — UP-DANN DEL MUNDO

RESEARCHERS FROM the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) called on government to adopt a wastewater-based monitoring of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) nationwide, saying this method allows for more localized surveillance and targeted mitigation measures. 

“Detecting RNA in wastewater could help local government units forecast what barangays are at risk and may need closer monitoring, rather than a blanket lockdown,” said Caroline Marie B. Jaraula, a UP-MSI professor who was among those that conducted a study on wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) in Davao City.   

The presence of viral RNA or ribonucleic acid is an indicator of COVID-19.

“We should consider this as science-based tools to determine which barangay is more susceptible,” she said during a presentation of the study on Jan. 19 via a Zoom conference. 

Another member of the research team, Dann Marie N. Del Mundo of UP Mindanao, said WBE provides an effective and faster analysis of community-level COVID-19 infection using less resources. 

“Clinical monitoring, such as RT-PCR testing, and contact tracing are limited in the early detection or prediction of community outbreaks and can be logistically demanding and expensive when applied to a large population,” Ms. Del Mundo said.  

The researchers also stressed that WBE can be used as a tool for wider monitoring and making policies on public health.   

The team, with funding from the Department of Science and Technology, have expanded their work into other areas through the Integrated Wastewater-Based Epidemiology and Data Analytics for Community-Level Pathogen Surveillance and Genetic Tracking (iWAS) Project.  

Shyrill Mae F. Mariano, research assistant at UP-MSI, also highlighted that their work point to the critical need to improve wastewater management in Davao City, citing the presence of bacteriological and pharmaceutical indicators of untreated wastewater within the Davao River basin.  

“During the conception of the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) Peer Peoples Project, Davao City still didn’t have this municipal sewerage treatment,” she said. “However, in October 2022 the city government of Davao announced that it will be launching a septage management program this 2023 to address the rising coliform levels in the city.” 

The city government, in partnership with the Davao City Water District (DCWD), announced last year that it will be launching the Davao City Septage Management Program in 2023. — Maya M. Padillo 

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