(Updated November 1, 2014)

MANILA, Philippines – The country may have successfully managed global disease scares such as SARS Coronavirus and H1N1 virus, but it has to do a lot more just to be able to handle the Ebola Virus Disease, according to the Department of Health.

In a statement published in the DOH website, Health Secretary Enrique Ona admitted “existing facilities still need to be upgraded to be able to handle diseases like Ebola.”

Among the facilities that require to be upgraded immediately are DOH’s major laboratory hospitals, which need to be elevated from Biosafety Level (BSL) 2 to BSL 3 or 4 for the detection, treatment, and containment of potentially high-risk infectious agents.

Dr. Ona, however, said he is confident that the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the country’s National Reference Center for Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases, remains prepared to respond to the threat of Ebola.

“Having managed previous global public health emergencies, the RITM has become better-equipped with rapid detection technology, laboratory, hospital facilities, and trained personnel in responding to the threat of new infectious disease agents,” he said.

At present, RITM primarily uses molecular detection methods that ensure sensitive and rapid diagnosis. Its Special Pathogens Laboratory can also perform recommended diagnostic tests for Ebola.

The facility also has eight negative-pressure isolation rooms, which prevent the spread of infectious agents from cases.

Apart from the facilities upgrade, health officials are also in the thick of conducting a specialized training program to educate medical professionals all over the country on how to detect and treat cases of Ebola and how to prevent the spread of the disease.

The training course includes guidelines on infection prevention and control, clinical management and isolation, laboratory diagnosis, with demonstration and hands-on sessions, said Dr. Ona.

The sessions will be held in three batches: First on the schedule are DOH-referral hospitals including Philippine General Hospital, AFP Medical Center and PNP General Hospital. The next batch will target private hospitals in major Philippine cities, while the last one will be for hospitals operated by local government units.

“All health workers must adhere to the protocols provided to keep them and their patients safe. It is very important that the Philippines has designated centers of excellence such as RITM with specialist knowledge and facilities to manage the treatment of any suspected Ebola case,” said Dr. Julie Hall, who is the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative for the Philippines.

Ebola can be contained
The beefed up preparations taking place in the Philippines to counter the dreaded Ebola are taking place amidst positive developments worldwide which point to the strong possibility that the disease is showing signs of containment.

This is after the WHO reported that Senegal and Nigeria has been officially declared as free of Ebola virus transmission. WHO said that based on its situation reports, Senegal was confirmed to be ebola-free since October 17. Meanwhile, Nigeria has logged in zero transmissions since October 20.

“This is a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained. The story of how Nigeria ended what many believed to be potentially the most explosive Ebola outbreak imaginable is worth telling in detail,” WHO said in a published statement.

This development also prompted the US Center for Disease Control to remove travel notice advisory on Ebola in Nigeria, which is Africa’s most densely populated country and the region’s newest economic powerhouse.

Prior to this declaration, Nigeria has recorded 19 cases of the virus. Seven died due to the disease.