THE challenges brought by Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 affected all sectors in society, not only in the Philippines but worldwide. The strict lockdowns at its early stage from March to May in the country restricted mobility and stopped almost all economic activities.
However, Philippine government agencies essential to response to Covid-19, including the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), addressed the challenges and continued to deliver services to harness science, technology and innovation (STI).
In its year-end report on its accomplishments in 2020, Leading Science, Technology and Innovation for Inclusive Growth and Development in the Time of Covid-19, the Science department highlighted its response to the pandemic as it pushed through its programs for socioeconomic growth.
Among the DOSTs many challenging activities in the past year were its leading role in the response to Covid-19, intensification of its research and development (R&D) program and the Science for Change programs.
Response to Covid-19
The report said the DOST served as the lead agency of the Inter-Agency Task Forces (IATF) former sub-Technical Working Group on Vaccine Development, now Task Group on Covid-19 Vaccine Evaluation and Selection.
The group is tasked to work on vaccine development-related activities, including the preparation for the conduct of Covid-19 vaccine Phase 3 clinical trials in the country.
The DOST, led by Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña, said in the report that it is also involved in the identification, evaluation and recommendation of possible vaccine candidates for the Philippines.
With these responsibilities, the department summoned its bilateral and multilateral partners, and attracted new ones, to identify foreign vaccine developers that would be willing to work with the task group and the government to ensure the countrys access to the global supply of vaccines.
At the same time, the department spearheaded the Philippine participation in World Health Organization Solidarity Trials on Vaccines and Therapeutics.
R&D test kits, equipment vs Covid-19
The DOST also led in the R&D on other concerns in response to the pandemic. Actually, as of December 2019, when the coronavirus was detected in China, the department was already preparing in its response to it.
It announced in early February to the media covering the science beat that its agencies have about a dozen of various researches to respond to the then still few known characteristics of the coronavirus.
De la Peña said then that the country has to be prepared to protect the Filipinos from the coronavirus.
There was also the web-based disease model, the Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler (Fassster), which served as a platform for projecting the future course of Covid-19 infections as well as surveillance.
Fassster, developed by the Ateneo de Manila University, has been turned over to the Department of Health.
DOST likewise supported and deployed the development of other information and communication technology and/or artificial intelligence (AI)-driven models and applications.
They included the Tracing for Allocation of Medical Supplies (TrAMS+), Telepresence Terminals for Covid-19 Response Team, and the Resource Allocation Management, Distribution Monitoring or Project (Ramdam).
The department funded and monitored the holding of trials on virgin coconut oil (VCO), melatonin, lagundi, tawa-tawa, and convalescent plasma as supplementary treatments for Covid-19.
De la Peña announced in November that the VCO could be used as an adjunct therapy for Covid-19 suspects and probable cases based on clinical and community studies in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, and in an earlier laboratory research in Singapore.
The researches on other supplementary treatments are still ongoing.
The Science department immediately initiated the design, development and production of personal protective equipment, medical devices and accessories in collaboration with government R&D and higher-education institutions, as well as private sector partners including start-up companies.
They also include development of ventilators, powered air purifying respirator; specimen collection booths; GO-CLEAN disinfection chamber; mobile AI-enabled thermal scanners; nanotechnology-enhanced sanitizers, re-useable, washable and re-wearable face masks; 3D-printed venturi valves, ear loop holders, filter attachment for oxygen concentrator masks.
The DOST also spearheaded the crafting of bills to set up the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP).
The creation of the VIP will serve as the countrys premier research center in the field of virology, encompassing all areas in viruses and viral diseases in humans, plants and animals, the report said.
De la Peña earlier said in one of his DOST Report briefings that the VIP will help prepare the country for future pandemic by having its own research for medicines or vaccines.