Academe mobilizes urgently needed supplies for front liners

Three of Northern Mindanao’s leading universities are in the thick of the fight versus the COVID-19 pandemic through their campus laboratories.

Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan (Xavier Ateneo) in Cagayan de Oro City, Central Mindanao University (CMU) in Bukidnon, and Mindanao State University (MSU) through College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at its main campus in Marawi City and  the Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) in Iligan City, have mobilized their available resources to supply hospitals with urgently needed medical supplies like alcohol and disinfectant.

We start this four-part series with the COVID-19 Response of Xavier Ateneo in Cagayan de Oro City.

Xavier Ateneo-Cagayan de Oro

From March 24-April 6, Xavier Ateneo’s #XUKontraCOVID19 headed by Vice President for Social Development Roel Ravanera distributed 105 bottles of isopropyl and ethyl alcohol produced by the XU Chemistry Department to various beneficiaries such as the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC), J.R. Borja General Hospital, Bukidnon Hospital, Maria Reyna-Xavier University Hospital, PNP Misamis Oriental, Cagayan de Oro Police Office (COCPO) and the Loyola House, official residence of Jesuits in Northern Mindanao.

“Soc Dev (SD) Cluster is coordinating #XUKontraCOVID19, XU’s institutional response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ravanera said. “We have formed various committees and Gail Galarrita handles the Information Consolidation and Sharing Committee.”

Preparing alcohol for front liners at the Xavier Ateneo chemistry laboratory. (R.L. Flores)

“The alcohol formulation by the Chemistry department of Xavier University immediately started upon hearing that the NMMC had limited to no supply of alcohol due to the increasing number of referred CoVid-19 patients,” said Analyn C. Asok, Ph.D., chair of Xavier Ateneo’s Chemistry Department.

“Knowing that commercial alcohol in the market was nowhere to be found, we thought of ways to help and that’s when our profession as chemists came into use,” she added.

Initially, the lab used its analytical grade absolute ethyl and isopropyl alcohol available in the Chemistry and Biology departments.

Later, additional absolute ethyl alcohol was bought using the chem department and the university’s fund. XUCCCO, a campus-based cooperative also donated absolute alcohol. 

 “We also received a number of calls from people willing to donate but sad to note that even the supply of absolute alcohol is now depleted. At present, we are still waiting for the next batch of absolute ethyl alcohol to arrive,” Asok said. “We are also expecting the arrival of absolute ethanol donated by Xavier University Chemistry Alumni Association (XUCAA) and ICP-X/XII/BARMM/CARAGA Chapters within this week.”

 “Please note that the alcohol formulation from absolute alcohol is indeed very expensive. But in these times, to save lives is more important,” Asok stressed.

 The all-volunteer team of the XU Chem Lab headed by Asok includes Higinio R. Barros Jr, Ann Marian Lou O. Eslopor, Renebelle L. Flores, and Don Vic L. Obaob, who designed the labels for the final product working from home.

 The team is also working to produce surface disinfectant with two partners.

 Through former Academic VP and  retired Chem Dept faculty Dr. Lina Kwong, Chemisol Inc. through General Manager Jerry Dy donated calcium hypochlorite for use as a surface disinfectant (not to be used as spray).

 Mr. Dy needed a chemist to accept the donation so that the correct concentration of the disinfectant could be provided to LGUs and CDO hospitals. The donated disinfectant was earlier transported from Davao by Robert De la Serna.

 “The chlorine content of calcium hypochlorite may deteriorate over time, especially when it is exposed to heat. So it’s necessary to determine the actual chlorine concentration to calculate the exact mass for the proper final disinfectant concentration. Since it is in solid form, we don’t need to dissolve it before distributing it to hospitals and LGUs. We will repack it following specific mass and label it accordingly so even non-technical people can easily understand how to use it properly and safely.”

Alcohol products produced by Xavier Ateneo’s chemistry laboratories have been donated to the Northern Mindanao Medical Center. (R. L. Flores)

 Asok said the analysis for actual chlorine content will be conducted by DOST-X personnel at their lab this week. If the materials need for repacking would already be available after the analysis is completed, the surface disinfectant can already be distributed by Xavier Ateneo’s SocDev headed by Roel Ravanera next week.

 The team is also working on another disinfectant project with former Xavier Ateneo Board of Trustees President Elpie Paras.  However, Juliet Q Dalagan, PhD., XU Vice President for Higher Education and also a faculty of XU Chem Dept. said the project with Paras has not yet officially started since the Chem Dept is still discussing with Paras how to best move forward.


The CMU Ethanol Production Team with their Hand Sanitizer products distributed to LGUs, provincial offices, chekpoints and hospitals in Bukidnon.
(CMU Public Relations & Information Office)

Higher up at the University Town, in MusuanDologon, MaramagBukidnon, the Central Mindanao University (CMU) has been producing hand sanitizers, disinfectant solutions and PPEs like face masks and face shields for hospitals, government offices, parishes and checkpoints.

CMU is a research state university and is one of the oldest premier universities in southern Philippines.

Dr. Melania Enot, Director of NPRDC, disclosed that this is a collaborative effort of CMU’s faculty researchers and science laboratories to formulate an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the virus.

Enot said that the hand sanitizers are based on the recommended formulation of the World Health Organization (WHO) of 80% alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, double distilled water, and glycerol.

On the first wave of CMU Cares campaign, CMU distributed hand sanitizers to the cities of Malaybalay and Valencia; and the municipalities of Don Carlos, Impasug-ong, Kadingilan, Manolo Fortich, and Maramag.

Campus made CMU hand sanitizers (Joy Jamago)

As of April 2, 2020, some113 liters of hand sanitizers have been distributed to the Bukidnon Provincial Medical Center, Bukidnon Provincial Hospital-Maramag, Bukidnon Provincial Hospital-Manolo Fortich, Impasug-ong Municipal Hospital, some hospitals in Valencia, and CMU University Hospital.  

Hand sanitizers were also distributed to the Office of the Provincial Governor, Provincial Veterinarian, , Municipal Agriculture Office-Impasug-ong, San Isidro Parish, LGU-Dologon, Maramag and checkpoints in Valencia City.

“CMU is always a partner of the country and the surrounding communities. The expertise of the faculty and staff become more valuable in situations like what we are currently in. We are here to serve because we absolutely care,” she added.

The CMU Ethanol Production Team  producing ethanol from molasses includes Dr. Gina Barbosa, Dr. Melania Enot, Prof. Ailene May Ang, Dr. Florfe Acma, Dr. Myrna Pabiona, Dr. Melania Guiang, Dr. Queenie Ann Curayag, Engr. Emmie Reyes, Chemist Leonar Jun Gabiana, Chemist Rainear Mendez, and Dr. Joy Jamago.

According to Jamago, the production of hand sanitizers can be sustained when the team can produce its own absolute alcohol.

Since the distillation systems at the university are not designed for large scale production, the team suggested fabricating a large-scale distillation unit in partnership with the Bukidnon Sugar Co. (BUSCO) and Dr. Rodolfo Espinosa, an alcohol expert from Guatemala (through Ms. Jasmin Tan-Lao, BS Chemistry alumna) who provided the team with a method and design to fabricate the distillation set-up.

While fermentation and distillation efforts are still on-going, the team continues to source ethyl alcohol within the university to sustain the production of hand sanitizers. The team is accepting donations of raw materials like ethyl alcohol (95%), glycerol, hydrogen peroxide, and distilled water to maximize production.

The CMU Team is willing to extend technical assistance to other municipalities provided they supply their own raw materials.

CMU community is grateful for the efforts of the following individuals and offices: Natural Products Research Center (NPRDC) headed by Dr. Melania Enot; National Science Research Center (NSRC) headed by Dr. Gina Barbosa; Food Research Development Center (FRDC) headed by Dr. Queenie Ann Curayag; Soil and Plant Analysis Laboratory (SPAL) headed by Dr. Myrna Pabiona; Chemistry and Biology Department; Agricultural Engineering Department headed by Engr. Emmie Reyes; Dr. Joy Jamago of Agronomy Department; Prof. Ailene G. Ang; and Tuklas Lunas Development Center headed by Dr. Reggie Y. Dela Cruz.

CMU formulated chlorine-solutions as a surface disinfectant. (Iyren Dalipe-Neri)

Aside from hand sanitizers, CMU will also be providing chlorine solution for foot baths and tire sprays in checkpoints and hospitals.

Through the efforts of Dr. Rolito G. Eballe and Dr. Alan P. Dargantes, CMU received gallons of purified water, and bulk amounts of chlorine powder from private companies like MGM Resort of the Panganiban Family.

The donated raw materials have  been forwarded to the Natural Science Research Center and will be handled by CMU chemists to formulate a chlorine solution  following the preparation protocol mandated by the WHO.

As of April 1, 2020, ten 18 liter containers of chlorine solutions have been forwarded to the University Hospital ready for distribution. Eballe advised municipalities who wish to avail of the  chlorine solutions to bring their own containers. (Report by Iyren A. Dalipe-Neri, PRIO-CMU)

MSU-Marawi City

THEY GOT THE SOLUTION Answering a call for help posted online, chemists at Mindanao State University produced sanitizers, a much-needed medical supply in the fight against the coronavirus.

Faced by a shortage of disinfectants, the provincial government of Lanao del Sur has tapped chemists from Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City to formulate alcohol-based sanitizers to be used by health workers in the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Provincial Board Member Jeff Adiong, president of the Sangguniang Kabataan provincial federation that initiated the project, said the shortage prompted his office to post an online call for local chemists to come forward and help the provincial government produce sanitizers.

A netizen responded by putting a link that immediately connected them to the MSU chemists.

“Our post on social media caught the attention of the Department of Chemistry of MSU Marawi,” he said. “We immediately had a meeting with the university president and the four chemists willing to help us,” Adiong said in a phone interview Wednesday.

After the MSU chemists agreed to produce the sanitizers with funds from the  provincial government, several hurdles remained before actual work could begin.

For instance, the chemists first had to wait for two days before the  approval and guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to formulate the compound was secured.

Then the laboratory had to be disinfected  but some of the needed raw materials like glycerol, hydrogen peroxide and ethanol were in short supply as well, so these had to be secured from suppliers in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities.

A LGU worker sprays disinfectant on the road in Saguiaran , Lanao del Sur where a check point on the road to Marawi City from Iligan City has been set up.
(Divina M. Suson)

The workers who picked up the supplies had to pass through tight checkpoints on their way back to Marawi.

“They had to hurry to avoid getting caught with the curfew hours. Supplies of raw materials are limited,” Adiong said.

“We need distilled water for dilution and [water] supply is not a problem,” Jomarie Seclon, one of the chemists, recalled. “If all the materials are available, we can formulate 240 liters in five days.”

But finally, on Tuesday, the chemists finished formulating the first 50 liters of the disinfectant, Seclon said.

The provincial government plans to distribute the finished product to each of the 39 towns in the province and in Marawi. Twenty liters has been allocated for Amai Pakpak Medical Center (APMC), the only public hospital in Marawi caring for COVID-19 patients.

As of April 1st, Lanao del Sur has six confirmed coronavirus with six fatalities. All of the patients were confined at the APMC. (Report by Divina M. Suson)


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