ADB, Emory University and Manila Water to introduce full-scale Wastewater-Based Epidemiology for SARS-CoV-2 surveillance in Metro Manila

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In photo: Ambassador of Austria to the Philippines H.E. Johann Brieger and his delegation, Emory University consultants led by Dr. Christine Moe, Asian Development Bank representative Graziel Salazar, Manila Water Technical Services Division Head Estelita Orodio, Laboratory Services Department Head Joy De Vera, and Wastewater Operations representatives during the launch of the full-scale implementation of Wastewater Based Epidemiology for SARS-Cov-2.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Emory University – Center for Global Safe Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene formally introduce the full-scale implementation of Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) for SARS-CoV-2 in the Philippines, in partnership with Manila Water.

It would be recalled that in July this year, Manila Water piloted the use of WBE for COVID-19 surveillance in Metro Manila, with the completion of the first-ever molecular laboratory in Ilugin Sewage Treatment Plant (STP). The facility is designed to detect and quantify emerging water contaminants including the SARS-Cov-2 virus in wastewater using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines, which are capable of amplifying small segments of DNA or RNA to an amount large enough to be studied in detail.

The project, which is being implemented under ADB’s Accelerating Sanitation for All in Asia and the Pacific (TA 9897), aims to support Manila Water in developing its capacities to perform wastewater-based epidemiology for SARS-CoV-2 surveillance in addition to its current laboratory capabilities. This project was funded under the $1.1-million grant of the Government of Austria to ADB to support activities related to introducing, testing, and developing environmental surveillance and wastewater-based epidemiology approaches, complementing its objectives on promoting citywide inclusive sanitation, sustainability, and climate change.

This will enable Manila Water to not only pursue water security for its 7.4 million customers but also aggressively seek public health measures that are globally recognized to ensure that the East Zone population and its local government units are prepared for further COVID-19 infections.

The technical assistance is also in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.2 of achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation solutions with special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

In this project, Emory University, in consultation with Manila Water, will develop a WBE sampling and testing protocol to be incorporated in the Company’s operations. They will also design and conduct a sampling and testing training program, both in classroom/virtual mode and actual hands-on demonstration.

The 5-day inception visit of ADB and Emory University representatives last 7-11 November 2022 started with a kick-off meeting at the ADB Headquarters, attended by the ambassador of the Government of Austria to the Philippines, H.E. Johann Brieger, representatives of ADB and Manila Water, and Emory University consultants led by their director, Dr. Christine Moe. Several presentations were discussed during the meeting including the introduction, discussion, and knowledge sharing of possible approaches for WBE in the East Zone of Metro Manila by Dr. Moe and her team, and introduction of Manila Water’s Wastewater Operations and Molecular Laboratory profile by Emmanuel Jimenez, head of the Company’s Research and Development.

Under the said project, the proponents will develop a WBE sampling and testing protocol to be incorporated in Manila Water’s operations. The data collected from the wastewater surveillance can be used as basis for crafting of health and safety policies on COVID-19 and determine emerging water contaminants.

Manila Water also took its partners in a laboratory tour and field site visits of various wastewater facilities, including STPs at Ilugin, Capitolyo, and Makati South, Magallanes Pumping Station, FTI Septage Treatment Plant (SpTP) and actual witnessing of desludging activity at a residential area in Taguig City. These activities aimed to better visualize the actual conditions on-site and create plans for initial sampling sites to better implement WBE in the East Zone. The group also met with the Department of Health, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, University of the Philippines Manila, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, and World Health Organization to discuss WBE in a stakeholders’ meeting.

The proponents aim to use the data collected from the wastewater surveillance as basis for crafting of health and safety policies on COVID-19 and addressing public health issues caused by existing and emerging water contaminants. The use of WBE was also proven to incur less cost than nationwide clinical testing since the virus can be detected in human waste of both symptomatic and asymptomatic persons infected with COVID-19.

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